IF someone told you that the Civic Players were performing Dracula, you would immediately assume that the company would do its usual highly entertaining and excellent job with the hilarious spoof The Dracula Spectacular, and look forward to an evening of laughter. NOT SO!
This time the long-established company has taken a leap into the (very) dark, director Rich Walters choosing the Steven Dietz adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous horror novel. Dietz is one of America’s best-known and most performed playwrights, but his works don’t make it to Broadway and hardly cross the Atlantic either. If this is anything to go by, the British stage is missing a trick.
His is a straight and chilling version. We all know the story of the blood-sucking Transylvanian count, but this play starts with Renfield, incarcerated in Dr Seward’s lunatic asylum in London and haunted by real demons. The doctor, who wants to see inside the mind of a madman and advance medical learning, is in love with Lucy – and Renfield, inexplicably, knows all about it. The success of this Dracula hinges on the character of the tortured Renfield and Civic Players are fortunate in having Stephen Mansey to play the role. He captures the agony of Dracula’s poor creature with extraordinary vocal variety and physical agility.
Rich Walters not only directs but also plays Dr Seward with an anguished intensity, well complemented by Tom Moorcroft’s Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor who visits Transylvania full of excitement and anticipation and returns a haunted, broken man. Terry Francis has the very difficult role of Van Helsing, and does it with Victorian bluster and religious fervour.
William Scott-Robinson has the title role, creating a shadowy figure of immense threatening power.
As you would expect, a production of Dracula comes swathed with vampire brides and blood, an erotic recipe of longing and wasting as the unfortunate heroines, Lucy and Mina, fall prey to the increasingly thirsty demands of the Count. Lucy (Lorna Murphy Durran), aware even before his arrival of a rising desire for intimacy, quickly succumbs, much to the distress of Dr Seward.
Mina (Vikki Whitchurch) is a different matter. Steadfast in her love for fiance Harker, she uses all her determined powers to trick Dracula. It’s a passionate and profound performance.
This Dracula has you on the edge of your seat, even though you know the outcome. It’s a brilliant departure from the Civic Players comedic norm, and an appetising promise for the future of the company. Congratulations to everyone involved.