Theatre: Review: Dracula, Arnos Vale Cemetery

Natalie Burns, November 23, 2015


Walking up the dark and misty moonlit path to Arnos Vale’s Anglican Chapel, past silhouetted graves and toward the light, you can’t help but be in the mood for horror.

There could hardly be a better place to immerse yourself in a familiar Gothic tale of the undead than this beautiful and foreboding cemetery on a dark and blustery November night. Bristol’s Red Rope Theatre made a brave and unique undertaking when they decided to perform Liz Lochhead’s adaptation of Dracula in this wonderful setting.

Running at three hours including interval, the play does justice to Bram Stoker’s well-known tale of a vampire king who leaves his Transylvanian castle in search of fresh blood on the unsuspecting shores of Victorian England.

Performed for the main part inside Arnos Vale’s Chapel under high windows looking out into the dark, Red Rope’s creative use of one room and simple but effective lighting, sound effects and props transform the church into the tale’s various lairs, castles, darkened forests and choppy seas.

We are taken through the Carpathian mountains, past armies of baying and bloodthirsty wolves and into the disturbed Renfield’s (Elliot Chapman) Bedlam cell, where we watch his madness increasing with the approach of his terrifying master. He pleads with the audience, and his own fractured mind, not to let him in.

Elsewhere, Jared Morgan cuts an impressively creepy figure as the eponymous Count – plaguing the troubled and wayward Lucy (Annette Chown) throughout, until children begin turning up with peculiar marks on their necks, babbling about the ‘bloofer lady’.

The cast draw us into the tale via a few physical devices that complement their strong performances, relying on bed sheets, a small table and, of course, those familiar vampire-killing staples – garlic, wooden stakes and crucifixes. The rest is left to our imagination, and the immersive picture is painted via some clever use of sound.

The final scene, where Dr Van Helsing (Paul Maguire), Mina (Rebecca Robson) and Jonathan Harker (Simon Riordan) finally reap revenge on the vampire king, is performed outside the church doors, in the dark cemetery grounds, adding an extra immersive and memorable layer.

Indeed, more could perhaps have been made of this uniquely creepy setting, though there must be logistical planning involved in getting a large group of theatregoers out amid the gravestones in the cold and dark. Maybe a summer performance at dusk would leave a little more scope to have the Count lurking amid the tombstones.

The adaptation brings together enough of the original text, references to Penny Dreadfuls, and a good sense of humour about the increasing fear of early feminism in a very patriarchal society to add a modern edge while remaining true to Stoker’s original.

Red Rope aims to make theatre accessible to all, regardless of age or class. Performances like this are sure to achieve that aim.

Dracula was staged at Arnos Vale Cemetery from Saturday, November 14 to Saturday, November 14. For more info on Red Rope Theatre, visit www.redropetheatre.co.uk

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