Dracula (review). A drama to sink your teeth into at The Grove.

Dracula. Photo by Alex Harvey-Brown.Dracula. Photo by Alex Harvey-Brown.
Dracula. Photo by Alex Harvey-Brown.
After a lifetime of blood-drenched film versions that ranged from the comic and musical to the hammy and sex-obsessed, it is refreshing to see Dracula returned to his roots.

Bram Stoker’s classic tale is deceptively sensuous, obviously dark and mysterious, and capable of tapping into a person’s deepest psyche. It’s the stuff of nightmares (or fantasies) –which is why the stage version is strictly for the over-13s.

Dracula is the ultimate in Gothic horror and BlackEyed Theatre’s splendid production, on at The Grove Theatre, Dunstable, until Saturday is a must for followers both alive and undead – but please leave the kids at home.

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It takes a while to get your teeth into the story (I’m not sure I’d have included so many Latin chants and musical interludes which disrupt the pace of the narrative) but you’re soon sucked into a terrifying world where Count Dracul quickly inhabits your very soul. It gets pretty scary and is hugely atmospheric.

Dracula’s quite erotic final speech, directly to the audience, was sensational way to end what was an engrossing theatrical treat.

I was disappointed not to see, in the cast, the gorgeous “Twilight” vampire that stares out from the company’s programme but the cast of five more than compensate with an imaginative rendition of a now well-thumbed novel.

The marmalade-haired Paul Kevin-Taylor presents Dracula as more of a Camden Goth, complete with the leather and red maxi-coat and lashings of make-up, rather than a member of Transylvanian nobility.

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The actor suffers a bit of an identity crisis throughout by also playing his own nemesis, the vampire-hunting Professor Van Helsing, and swaps costumes in the single flap of a bat’s wing.

Sounding like an 80-a-day smoker the gravelly-voiced professor is earnest and knowledgeable about how to solve a spate of horrific deaths and abductions that tear through Victorian England once the Count arrives to set up home. It involves the gruesome, and now familiar, ritual of a stake through the heart and decapitation.

Meanwhile Taylor’s vampiric dark lord is a bit of a cliché who sounds like he’s been watching too many of his own movies (though there is a lovely homage to the original silent film shocker, Nosferatu).

But his menace deepens as the play progresses with a couple of shocking scenes that are both thrilling and disturbing in equal measure - and, of course, there’s the no-longer scandalous moment of homo-eroticism between the story’s two female leads, the corset-clad Lucy (Katrina Gibson) and Mina Harker (Rachel Winters) who drop their inhibitions after savouring the Count’s blood.

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The one thing missing from a play about blood suckers is the red-stuff. Not a drop is evident despite a number of necks being bitten and seriously mauled which, I guess, is good news if you’re a bit squeamish.

Will Bryant’s Jonathan Harker is a watchable hero but his secondary role as the resident asylum lunatic, Renfield, is the scene stealer. A snivelling and unnerving sycophant of Dracula, he spends his time working up an appetite that ranges from flies to cats.

This production was immensely enjoyable and my only criticism of it was that it really needed to be performed in a more intimate venue like a pub-theatre or on a fringe stage to appreciate it fully. The Grove’s 780-seat auditorium overwhelmed what is essentially a fringe production.

At one time The Grove welcomed big touring West End shows like Blood Brothers and Joseph so it’s disappointing to see how it has recently lowered its expectations in terms of visiting drama.

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It’s unfair on the visiting companies, with their rudimentary sets and largely inexperienced casts, which find it impossible to attract half decent audiences despite some excellent, and well-acted, productions.

A professional venue such as this, the only one in Bedfordshire, needs to bring in a better class of play or musical if it wants to fill its seats and establish itself as more than just a civic hall for one night tribute acts.

Dracula ends its run tonight. For tickets call the box office 01582 602080 or go online www.grovetheatre.co.uk

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