Bram Stoker's Dracula is brought to the stage at the Broadway Studio Theatre in this relatively faithful adaptation, but fails to truly thrill and chill. The company impresses at moments, but this production is spotty at best. In short, it's disappointing.
The original story of Dracula, as told by Bram Stoker, is epistolary – it is told entirely through journals, letters and newspaper clippings. Jonathan Harker, trainee solicitor, is dispatched to Transylvania to organise the purchase of a house in England for one Count Dracula, a local noble. However, he quickly realises that there is something unnatural about the Count, who has him virtually under house arrest, and an encounter with the Count's undead brides convinces Harker to run away. Meanwhile, back in England, his fiancée Mina's friend Lucy accepts the marriage proposal of Arthur Holmwood, while rejecting Dr John Seward and Quincey Morris – all remain friends (somehow). Seward runs a lunatic asylum, where inmate Renfield starts babbling about the arrival of 'the master'. Soon, Lucy is dying from a lack of blood, and Seward calls in his old teacher Van Helsing, who quickly deduces Lucy's condition, putting a stake through her heart (and decapitating her) after death. Meanwhile, Jonathan has returned home and married Mina, the Count's next target, and all of the men unite to chase the monster back to Transylvania and destroy him.
This plot has, through countless adaptations and revisions, been relentlessly slashed before – and this version, while closer to the original than most, still omits some details: Morris is removed entirely, and Renfield's role is reduced. However, the biggest flaw here is the attempt to remain epistolary, replacing diaries and letters with narration. Every action is described by the actor as they are doing it – which gets very boring very quickly. There's no suspense and no drama – there's no need to tell the audience what is happening if the piece is well-performed, which unfortunately is not often true either. There's also a couple of lamentable cuts – with Renfield's role reduced, his addition to the plot is meaningless and distracting, and it's never explained why Dracula tries to change Mina into a full-blown vampire instead of turning her into one of his Brides, removing whatever little suspense there was from the final third of the play.
Also, there's a bigger problem at play here – the book is written to be a boy's own adventure, with plenty of brawling and fighting and running back and forth between places and all that kind of thing; it doesn't exactly befit a theatrical treatment as is. Most adaptations try and focus on the horror or the thriller aspects of the piece, or use it as a psychological study, but this version retains the adventure story, meaning that a lot of the already-dull descriptive work then becomes travelogue. However, it does lead to some very well choreographed fights, but it just makes Dracula seem even less imposing when you see him get punched in the face.
As mentioned above, the acting is spotty – Will Close has some nice moments as Seward and seems to be the only actor actually playing a character in a gothic horror story, while Ben Higgins' Harker is very amiable and holds the first third almost entirely by himself, but that's about it. George Wigzell's Dracula just seems to skulk around the stage a lot, and the horrendous accent work just distracts; John Sears' Van Helsing suffers from a similar issue. Owen Lindsay's Renfield is hampered by being uninvolved in the plot, as is Laura Olliffe's Mina, and Nicole Anderson and Alexander McWilliam flounder woodenly as Lucy and Holmwood.
The staging is interesting, with wooden coffins being used as stage boxes to show a number of set pieces and doors, but it stops working the moment a character walks through a door, then reappears immediately – there's no hint as to the passage of space or time, which isn't helped either by narrators wandering in and out of scenes with little purpose. The costumes are very nice, but don't fit with the spartan set, and the lack of effects are a real shame, with daggers being palmed and the like.
What can I say? It's the director's debut, and there's clearly still a lot to be learned – the stagecraft is poor, with actors often forced to have their back to the audience, and there is surprisingly little eroticism and horror from a story famed for it. Some of the company impress, and there are hints of something beneath the surface, but it's just not good enough to be more than idle enjoyment.