By The Stage Dragon
“Step into my parlour, said the spider to the fly, perhaps you’ll die…” was the chilling introduction to last night’s innovative production of Dracula in suitably spooky, night-time, Guildford Castle.
Renfield, an inmate at a lunatic asylum, played by Phillip Hutchinson, confronts the audience with this reference to Mary Howitt’s renowned cautionary nursery rhyme, as they enter the castle. It somehow encapsulated the horror of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, and prepares the audience for a feast of blood, fear and thoroughly enthralling theatre.
In fact, the effectiveness of the short quote is testament to the outstanding performance of Hutchinson who, though not in a main role, provided many of the production’s most memorable moments.
The sense of foreboding was actively encouraged by the members of the Pranksters Theatre Company as soon as the audience arrived. Assembling at the gate, we were directed to enter the castle keep by solemn administrator Dr Jack Seward (Tony Carpenter), while being observed by the ominous laughing figure of Dracula, standing silhouetted against a red light on the castle roof.
But not all the members of the amateur cast could keep up with the level of performance delivered by Hutchinson. Scenes between the male protagonists sometimes failed to deliver sufficient pace or intensity that the sinister tale deserved. Luckily, however, the scenes were often rescued by an impressive performance by Kelsey Williams, who portrayed Lucy, a young woman who is the centre-point for much of the story, as she gradually succumbs tovampirism.
Also notable is Greg Lynn as Dracula. He might not have terrified but, he nevertheless managed to maintain an impressive stage presence.
The company has once again managed to adapt the castle keep into an effective performance space. The audience sat along two of the four walls, leaving the curtained entrance and atmospheric stone staircase in the set. It is used classically for of Count Dracula‘s first appearance.
The arrangement means that many of the actors are in view of the audience when ‘offstage’, requiring them to perform continuously for the duration of the show. This effort, much like the show itself, was lead by Hutchinson. Never observed out of character, he seemed capable of holding the audience’s attention for the full 90 minutes alone.
The ad hoc lighting throughout the performance was excellent but the use of projected images is somewhat bewildering. Perhaps added as an afterthought, they seemed unnecessary.
The plot unfolded through narration rather than dialogue, with much of the story delivered through diaries and letters written and read aloud (and often acted out) by the characters. This is an obvious reflection of the original text, written as it is, in a series of records and correspondences.
But, the effectiveness of this technique was dependant on the skill of the individuals using it. Unfortunately, when in the hands of some of the weaker cast members crucial tension previously created was sometimes broken.
Equally though the narrative technique allowed further displays of quality from Kelsey Williams, as well as Kirsten Donohue in the role of Mina. They appear on stage simultaneously although their characters are in different geographical locations, a device used repeatedly (at one point we saw three separate scenes occurring simultaneously) that exemplifies the inventiveness of the Prankster Theatre Company.
And it really is this inventiveness, in a unique location, that makes this a production you should endeavour to see. With space to seat less than 50 people at a time, and a run of just one week, book a ticket now. For any flaws, it is a show which chills and entertains from the moment you arrive at Guildford Castle, to the exciting climax at Castle Dracula.