As with all Dracula based stories few characters are left unscathed at the end. There are two outstanding features of the production. The first is Sutton House which presents a perfect setting for the narrative and the second is the strong performances of the talented cast. Dracula is a perfect offering for a fright-seeking audience at Halloween.
There are always mysteries in life. Dracula-Stoker
In time for the Halloween season, Tea Break Theatre present a site specific immersive theatrical event at Sutton House, Hackney. This adaptation of the original story by Bram Stoker was written by Katherine Armitage after workshops with the cast.
There are two outstanding features of the production. The first is Sutton House, which presents a perfect setting for the narrative. Action begins in the courtyard and a tour guide leads the audience up the painted staircase into an oak panelled parlour. This is the room in which most of the play takes place.
After a brief introduction to the house the play proceeds to reveal the second jewel of the production, the ensemble cast. The cast are a talented and committed troupe of seven actors and it would be a spoiler to reveal more of that opening scene. Fear lies in the unexpected. The cast and Sutton House combine to frighten the adrenalin driven responses in the audience on more then one occasion.
Dracula is in two acts. The first meanders rather too much in its exposition phase and scenes become disconnected as a through line of narrative. However in the second act there is a distinct rush towards the climactic end in the basement crypt. Whilst some of the diversions muddy the plot too much, others are hugely entertaining and creepy. At one time the audience is herded into a confined group by ghoulish masked figures who chant and push forward with alarming intensity.
There is a time shift in the production beginning in the present and moving through numerous previous eras. The cast maintain their personas throughout. The unheralded shifts in time are somewhat confusing and it pays to keep aware of the backwards nature of the thread of the story.
Louise Young, from the opening moments of the play, takes the major role of Elizabeth Renfield. Young has a commanding presence and is believable in her character. The first victim of the story is Lucy, played with charm and skill by Jennifer Tyler. Her fiancé is the urbane and faithful Arthur, played winningly by Jeff Scott.
Jon-Paul Rowden plays the expert consultant, Abraham Van Helsing with suitable authority and a believable sense of urgency. His colleague Dr Jane Seward who runs the mental asylum is played by Angela Nesi.
Christopher Dobson and Molly Small play husband and wife, Jonathon and Mina Harker. Whilst both performers play their parts well, Dobson features in a pre-filmed segment that, through no fault of the actor, appears significant to the narrative but fails to be clear in its content – leaving the audience baffled.
The writer, Katherine Armitage, was also the director and as such is responsible for the flow of the narrative and the energy within the piece. There are moments, viz the second act, where the flow is very good and serves the narrative well but there are also times when the diversions threaten to derail the train. One such time was the splitting of the audience into separate groups.
The production was designed by Isobel Power Smith and was a powerful example of using the limited technical palette of the National Trust venue to its best advantage. The limitations were in lighting and were overcome to be subtle and effective. Costumes played a major part in defining the changes in time and supported the narrative effectively.
As with all Dracula based stories few characters are left unscathed at the end…or as in the case of this Dracula, perhaps that rather refers to the beginning than the end. There is a palpable relief within the audience when they actually exit Sutton House seemingly in one piece.