Theatre Review: ‘Dracula’ at The Shaw Festival

Cherissa Richards and Allan Louis in ‘Dracuala’ at The Shaw Festival. Photo by David Cooper

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, “Dracula” has made its mark on popular culture over the last century. What was once considered to be a dime a dozen horror novel, has turned into a phenomenon that continues to entertain and scare audiences. Numerous film and stage adaptations have been developed and mounted based on the tale of the aristocratic vampire who manipulates those around him to quench his bloody desires.

 . . . visually stunning. . .

If you have ever read the book, you know that Stoker takes his time to tell his story. That is my nice way of saying that it is very long. It is lengthy, and detailed, and takes a while to get cooking. It is definitely a novel of it’s time. Does it stand up to modern day audiences, yes. It is still an entertaining story, but does it work well on the stage? Not so much.

The Shaw Festival’s mounting of Liz Lockhead’s 1985 adaptation is one that takes many liberties in assuming that the audience knows what is happening and takes many liberties in assuming that we are all still paying attention during it’s slow build. Lockhead’s adaptation is a streamlining of Stoker’s plot points, but leaves holes in the details of the story, and leaves the audience scratching their heads as to what is happening. If I had not read the novel, I would have been incredibly lost. That being said, these script issues are not the fault of The Shaw production. They are that of the playwright. 

Director Eda Holmes mounts a visually stunning production that excites the eye and sends shivers down your spine, thanks in part to the original music and sound effects by John Gzowski. Michael Gianfrancesco’s designs and aesthetics for this production are fantastic. The costumes are absolutely beautiful and the simple minimalistic set, with the key set pieces, really aid in telling of this chilling story. The hanging chain curtain that acts as a doorway is one of the most exciting pieces of set design that I have seen in a long time. The sound that the chains make as they drag across the stage is a successful mechanism for creating an eerie feeling that sets the tone for the atmosphere of the story.

The casting for this show is well done. Allan Louis as the title character of this piece is a wonderful choice for the creepy Hungarian aristocrat. He possesses a presence on the stage that is commanding yet friendly. He gets a great deal of laughs with his delivery and he takes the role of Dracula and makes it his own. You love to hate him and your attention is always heightened when he appears on stage. Louis does not disappoint.

Martin Happer’s performance of Dr. Seward is well done. He plays the confused doctor, searching for answers, well. When it comes to chemistry with love interest Lucy, played by Cherissa Richards, there does not seem to be much. The interesting thing about this problem is that I do not believe that it is the fault of the actors that the chemistry barely exists, I just believe that the script does not allow for it to actually come across. Both Happer and Richards play their parts well, but when it comes to being a believable couple, it falls flat.

Richards is fun to watch because her portrayal of Lucy is one that holds true all the innocence and childhood charm that is expected in the character. Richards also bares all on stage, literally, which in and of itself is a commitment to the role and to the production. 

Steven Sutcliffe does well as Dr. Van Helsing. He plays the role with a very interesting approach. At first I was not convinced of his performance, but he quickly grew on me. Again, Sutcliffe works with what the script gives him. We are told that he understands the vampires, and how they work, but what we are not really given a taste of his previous encounters and why he knows what he knows. The script takes for granted that the audience understands his past, and that I feel to be unfair. Sutcliffe is a welcomed addition to this cast.

The rest of this cast does well filling in the story as needed and assists in creating a visually stunning piece of theatre. That all being said, exposition issues with the script and the length of the show proved to be an issue in this production. The show, which clocks in at three hours, is just not exciting enough to captivate the contemporary theatergoer.

Running Time: 3 Hours, including a 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Frontal Nudity

“Dracula” runs until October 14, 2017 and is presented as part of The Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada. For more information, click here.