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Theatre review: Dracula, or The Undead

Friday night and it was time to get down town to see this excellent one-man show at The Old Electric. I’d planned to get the more convenient Service 61 bus, but the app showed that to be very late, resulting in a rapid scuttle for the Service 3 instead. This all added early colour to a night that promised darkness.

It’s not too long since I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so I was particularly curious about this production. I soon seemed to be ensconced in the stageless theatre space with my little can of water.

The set consisted of two tall velvet-draped candlesticks with what looked like real candles, a perfectly ordinary yet strangely intimidating chair and a table on which sat a glass and a decanter – thankfully not full of red liquid. The lights dimmed abruptly and Jonathan Goodwin strode into the stage space as an entirely convincing Dracula.

No fangs, no dripping blood, no cloaks – just a carefully selected black coat, the slicked-back hair and pale make up. A subtly restrained Dracula and all the better for it.

Then began a monologue, which took us through iterations of the vampire and Dracula myth. This started with the real live Vlad Dracul father of Vlad the Impaler, scourge of the Ottomans in what’s now Romania (and quite a few other people he also didn’t like). For some reason clips from a film about this guy have been popping up on my YouTube feed, and if they are anything like the truth, he didn’t mess about.

The production worked through a series of real-life characters, including Lord Byron (part instigator of vampire stories who also prompted Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein), Bram Stoker (author of Dracula, which references Vlad the Impaler) and Hitler. The latter seemed to be part included to make the point that real life people can be more monstrous than fictional characters.

Wound in with this were a number of fictional creations, including Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days and the mortal cast of Dracula – mainly Lucy’s bereft lovers led by Van Helsing. Vampire myths, such as their vulnerability to sunlight, are busted – in Dracula the Count moves around quite freely in the day. The show marks the novel’s 125th anniversary and the book is referenced with a re-telling of the famous episode of the schooner Demeter arriving in Whitby with a dead man tied to the wheel. Whitby gets slagged off (oops, it’s one of my favourite places). Interestingly, the various Hammer Horror Dracula films don’t get a mention. The Fu Man Chu movies do (those used to scare me shitless).

Goodwin prowls around the stage space, his sudden outbursts making us all jump and the Old Electric’s intimate staging means we are far closer into the action than we would be in a more traditional theatre. Then he sinks into his intimidating chair and sips enigmatically from his glass, refilling from his decanter periodically. It’s all just too compelling and the time flies by. How does he remember all those words? It’s just him with no intervention from any other participants, so the dialogue is not really in bite-size (fnarr!) chunks. I woke this morning and realised I’d forgotten a very famour actor’s name, so I know I could never do this. Such respect for this skill!

And he does voices: Phileas Fogg, a witness at Whitby, a British soldier threatened by unkillable Thuggee warriors. They’re pitched just right – it could go wrong here if the voices were slightly too over the top.

Reaching into the 20th century and the story was over. A briefly efficient bow, no curtain call when there’s no curtain and he is gone. For a small (but quality) audience, the applause is tumultuous. Perhaps the next version will include some 21st century horrors – Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, Syria, Islamic State, Ukraine – there’s plenty of evil to go at, and no need for vampires really.

I leave the venue and head up to Funny Girls to catch the service 3 bus home. Perhaps I should be afraid of vampires jumping out at me, but the show wasn’t quite that scary. Congratulations to all involved.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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