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DRACULA
By Bram Stoker
Adapted for the stage by Liz Lochhead
Directed by Eda Holmes
At the Festival Theatre. Till October 14, 2017

Cherissa Richards (Lucy) and Allan Louis (Dracula) (photo: David Cooper)

Scots poet-playwright Liz Lochhead has transformed Bram Stoker’s classic tale of vampirism into a feminist yarn layered with themes of gender and abnormal sexuality. Director Eda Holmes has carried the transformation a step farther by presenting (through actor Allan Louis) a mythic creature who seduces by appealing to his women victims’ secret needs. Louis’s Count is neither ham nor ham-fisted. He is a handsome creature of darkness (literally because of his skin colour) who lives alone with his memories and wit. And he gleams even in darkness with palpable sexual allure, especially when he is hovering behind screens or curtains before revealing himself. His Lucy (Cherissa Richards) is a rebel against her an uptight chauvinistic society. She seems to invoke lesbianism and vampirism when she tells her virginal sister Mina: “You’re good enough to eat!” Of course, the irony is that Lucy is the one who becomes Dracula’s carnal feast. The actress portrays sexual delirium with intense fervour, and Lucy’s coupling with the vampire leaves nothing to the imagination.

Holmes amplifies the playwright’s theme of New Women by exploiting some of the sexual warps of the tale. Florrie (Natasha Mumba) discharges sexual double-entendres and discusses sex openly with Lucy, who comes to luxuriate in the vampire’s eroticism. Jonathan Harker (Ben Sanders) is luridly tempted by Dracula’s brides. This is evidently not a story that sanctifies marriage or chastity. It is also not a story that holds to a heterosexual ethos. While coaxing nervous Jonathan Harker (Ben Sanders) to stay with him, Dracula offers to play his chambermaid—an enticing sexual gambit. Homoeroticism raises its own spectre when the predatory Count hovers over the half-naked form of Harker on a bed, but director and actors cut short the suggestiveness.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s design incorporates screens, curtains, and cages to build a context for demonic romanticism as well as madness. However, the Gothic articulation falls a little short at times, and Holmes overuses the curtains. Nice to have the fabric used as a sort of filmic wipe, but sometimes their movement is merely distracting when a deeper suspense could be created from chilling stillness. Cameron Davis’s projections give us storm and stress in the forms of boiling sea waves, super-enlarged maggots, wolf eyes, and blood drops, while Alan Brodie’s lighting and John Gzowski’s music and sound design enhance the sense of forces eerily suppressed or eruptive.

There are some standout performances in the ensemble by Moya O’Connell and Chick Reid as amusingly cynical nurse cockney nurses, Steven Sutcliffe as Van Helsing, and Graeme Somerville as the insane, fly-munching Renfield. And Marla McLean is a deliciously virginal Mina. There is also sturdy support from Martin Happer as a helplessly baffled Dr. Seward. But the fundamental problem is the adaptation itself because it resorts to having Van Helsing serve as narrator of his own actions and keeps Dracula off the stage for much too long, denying us the opportunity to experience Allan Louis at full bite.

 

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