Reviewed by: Waikato Times/Theatreview
Date: 29th August, 2012
Reviewer: Gail Pittaway
HOW MADNESS AND EVIL BECOME THE NORM
Bram Stoker's great story, like his character, never seems to die and has survived through many genres and media since its publication in the 1890s.
This stage version by William McNulty simplifies the cast and plot of the original story but retains much of the language and atmosphere as Dr Seward and his old friend Abram Van Helsing unravel the mystery of the illnesses and disappearances that have plagued Seward's small circle of friends in England.
Carving in Ice and Hamilton Operatic Society have officially combined for this production. The characters don't burst into song; they are in good voice for the howling and cries, while the chorus of three flimsily clad vampire brides dance eerily in the gloom. So the play is a well chosen hybrid for both groups.
Gaye Poole's fine direction draws out the scientists' attempts at rationalisation against ever-mounting evidence that wickedness is afoot. Gradually she shows these extremes coming together until madness and evil become the norm.
Michael Potts and Nick Wilkinson, as Seward and Van Helsing respectively, pursue their deductions with cool dignity. In contrast to more recent movie versions, much is made of Van Helsing's advanced age in the original and in this script, and while his approach seems staunch and steady, Wilkinson plays him as a man careful to conserve his energy. Potts' more hysterical character has some strong descriptions and stories to impart, especially in the opening scene, and these are executed with skill and conviction.
The costumes by Cherie Cooke are very impressive, especially the gowns and cloaks, while the glorious operatic curtain functions as both atmospheric backdrop and spooky device. A pity that full blackout can't be achieved in this theatre as some scene changes would work better. Also the dry ice machine needs a muffler and the use of battery torches seems out of place.
But the wide stage area is well used by three main settings – graveyard, interior of house and medical clinic – with well-chosen or specially made furnishings like Victorian sofas, medical beds and coffins appropriately displayed.
Of course Count Dracula himself is the most important role and Carl Watkins gives a flawless performance, mercifully not too caricatured, but enigmatic; compelling yet also witty and urbane. He is aided by excellent special effects and stagecraft in his trickery but his howl and laugh are also uniquely memorable.
Mina, the wraith-like vampire who was once Seward's fiancé, is played with intensity by Shannon Turnbull, particularly so in scenes dancing with her undead Master, and playing a gruesome game of tag with a child on Hampstead Heath.
Mina's best friend Lucy is played by Rachel Clark, perfectly flicking in and out of stability, at one minute cowering with her stolid fiancé John (a consistent Jeremy Thomkins) and then trying to seduce him in order to drain his jugular.
Mandy Faulkner‘s performance of Margaret Sullivan is particularly spirited and her moments of demonic behaviour genuinely scary.
Of the other male characters, Will Collins gives a mercurial performance as the insane Renfield that is funny and creepy, providing moments of light relief to the end. Clive Lamdin's delightfully named Norbert Briggs lumbers along as the classic rude mechanical, also providing some much needed moments of humour, while Benny Marama plays an alter-ego of the Count that is more beast, less man—Nosferato itself perhaps?
But his beastliness is nearly upstaged by the appearance of a real rat in the cast. The old adage of not acting with animals or children rings true in this case, as the rat is a pleasant distraction and release of tension, while the evil child (Vivi Crossland tonight, alternating with Miriama Rowell-Tuhakaraina) is just outstanding and very chilling.
It's good to see this classic tale unfolding on stage and both companies uniting forces to deliver a fine show with plenty of action. I hope this will become an annual collaboration.
Reviewed by: Hamilton Press
Date: 29th August, 2012
Reviewer: Geoff Lewis
GOTHIC-HORROR OPENS NEW TERRITORY
The first joint production between the usually Waikato University-based Craving in Ice theatre group and the established Hamilton Operatic Society opens productive territory for both organisations.
Carving in Ice, with productions usually directed by university theatre studies lecturer Gaye Poole, has traditionally undertaken smaller less-known works while musical theatre has been Operatic's mainstay for many years.
The McNulty version of Dracula, gives Carving in Ice a far bigger canvas while a team of Operatic's more experienced actors get to play a straight drama.
Dracula is a fictional late-19th century gothic-horror and needs to be appreciated in that context. There's screaming, blood, stakes and knives, the occult, demons, werewolf-style shape-shifting and even elements of Freudian psychology.
The audience reaction could be gauged by the tense silence during the more bloody scenes. Theatre is a very personal experience.
Set in a seaside lunatic asylum in England, the play captures the typically gloomy late Victorian style. It takes a while to establish the story line and anyone who was not already familiar with the Dracula tale might find themselves bemused.
Nevertheless Dracula offers the cast ample opportunity for strong characterisation and the result was appreciated by the audience.
Key cast members include baddies Carl Watkins as Count Dracula and his alter-ego Benny Marama as the Vampire, while the forces for good are bolstered by Micheal Potts and Nick Wilkinson as Drs Thomas Seward and Van Helsing.
Victims include Shannon Turnbull, Rachael Clarke, the fiendish 11-year-old Vivi Crossland. There is even a black rat, purpose unknown.