Bristol Old Vic is shrouded in light mist. The set is dark. A figure enters stage, writhing in torment. a pack of terrifying wolves delivers to him a baby in a sack, torn from her distraught and pleading mother. The figure carries the sack, today’s meal, to three hungry women dressed in white.
Within moments, we know that Mark Bruce Company’s Dracula is going to be a suitably dark and sinister interpretation of Bram Stoker’s late nineteenth century classic Gothic novel.
The piece is told entirely in dance and beautifully at that. Jonathan Goddard in the title role moves at times with a fluidity reminiscent of a cartoon character, supple in the extreme, bending and ducking as if his strong, solid physique has disappeared and his bones have become soft. His small troupe of Vampire Brides (Nicole Guarino, Grace Jabbari and Hannah Kidd), complete and compliment their Master’s sexiness, their eroticism matched at times by coquettish humour and suggestive pelvic movements – whichever of this trio heads the last leg of Jonathan Harker’s hellish journey to Dracula’s residence by horse and cart transfixed me with her thrusts. This is surely the third Bride to bite Harker, her head now free of the mare’s gorgeously crafted leather mask, her sexual energy familiar. And, in the role of Jonathan Harker, Wayne Parsons genuinely looks petrified as he realises the unorthodox, malevolent nature of the man he has come to visit.
I thought I knew the story of Dracula, having read the book in my childhood and enjoyed the film in my 20s. But, although this version seemed entirely fresh to me, according to my theatre-going companion, who knows the book extremely well, Bruce’s production follows Stoker’s original very closely.
Dracula is a tale of love, control and possession. The innocence and chasteness of Mina’s (Eleanor Duval) relationship with Jonathan is exposed fully when she finally meets Dracula and truly becomes alive, leading him in his own merry dance and liberating not just herself but maybe all of womankind. And our heart goes out to Lucy Westerna, played by Kristin McGuire with warmth and humour, as she sees that triumverate of suitors woo her and then destroy her. But again, is her spiral from pretty young thing into lustful Vampire actually her demise or is it her ultimate release?
A word about the music – brilliant and eclectic, with a whole host of historically famous composers to some original and disquietening material by Mark Bruce. Along with Phil Eddolls’ simple yet effective set design, Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting (the candles worked particularly well) and the cast’s faultless dance, the tale is told with clarity and elegance.
Dracula is one of my favourite productions of 2014 so far.
Dracula is on at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 4th October
– Review by Becky Condron