Thursday, 2 October 2014

Review: Dracula, Bristol Old Vic

Like most people I love a good vampire story, preferably one in which no-one sparkles. If you too like vampires I can't recommend anything more than that you leg it down to Bristol Old Vic immediately to see Mark Bruce's dance version of Dracula. It's on in Bristol till Saturday and then at these other venues.

All photos: Farrows Creative

The story of Dracula has been told and retold so many times it's become little but camp and caricature in most versions, but this, which takes place on a half-dark stage filled with a wrought-iron gate, is genuinely scary. Despite the lack of dialogue the story is always easy to follow, and stays fairly true to the Victorian original.

Using ten performers, five male five female, events unfold via a variety of dance styles, all danced with passion and athleticism. There is plenty of darkness, plenty of blood, and plenty of death. Dracula is always awfully sexy, and the fact that he never speaks means his physical presence says more of his powers than any Hammer Horror ever could.

The original Dracula novel was written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, and for the time is startlingly modern in format: there is no writer commenting on the action, as in most Victorian novels, but the reader has to put the story together from fragments of letters and journals. One reason the story has stuck around is that it's about things that still bother us: sex, death, unnerving foreignors, and the eternal battle between civilised respectability and uncivilised passions. Most of these are things that bother us on a sub-verbal level, so there's probably few better ways to represent these conflicts than in an unspoken format.

One of the things I liked most about this production is that it had many contemporary resonances (at the beginning, a blood-crazed Dracula and his black-hooded wolves steal a baby from a screaming, head-scarfed peasant woman, like some awful news story from Iraq or Syria) without losing the quality of the time it was written in. The score used many beautiful (and unusual) pieces of classical music, the costumes were simple and appropriate, and the wrought iron gates, finally, festooned with the bodies of the vampire brides, looked like an Aubrey Beardsley drawing.

I would very happily sit through this production again, as I'm sure there were things I missed. Also, it was just beautiful.

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