You really can’t fault Bram Stroker’s 1897 gothic masterpiece Dracula, it has gone on to inspire generations not to mention created the basis for all vampire mythology that we see today in popular culture. It goes without saying the novel is in my top 10. So when I heard Shake & Stir Theatre Co were adapting it for the stage, it was a production that I just had to see.
Over the last few years I’m proud to say I have become an avid fan of Shake & Stir’s productions, anyone that saw their take on George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, can agree that they can take a classic and create a masterpiece on stage. So how did they go in bringing what many consider to be the “original horror” story to stage? Simple. Bram Stroker would be turning in his grave with pure enjoyment!
As young as it maybe, Shake & Stir Theatre Co continues to be an independent theatre company to keep an eye out for and that always pushes the boundaries on stage in providing a theatre experience like none other. Their adaptation of Dracula was exactly that. They have created a show that blows the mind in every aspect.
Costume designer Leigh Buchannan, set designer Josh McIntosh, lighting designer Jason Glenright, and sound designer/ composer Guy Webster, excelled in creating a Victorian world on stage from carefully styled choice of costumes to swirling mist and dark leering shadows blanketing the stage with the right amount of lighting capture the gas light era.
The set itself looked like something out of a M.C. Escher drawing, but the use of a constantly revolving set is really what had mouths dropping. Made up of a spiral staircase, with each turn it created a variety of different locations including carriages run by gypsies, dark mysterious hallways of castle Transylvania, the docks of London, the dungeons of an asylum, and so much more; while providing a dark melodramatic atmosphere for the beloved age old story of the battle between good and evil to unfold on stage like a classic horror movie right before your eyes.
Under the brilliant direction of Michael Futcher, the cast with carefully timed precision delivered their lines often traversing the revolving stage moving from one scene to the next. They did so without fault that kept the story smoothly moving forward, not once creating the slightest dull moment on stage. That in itself made for captivating viewing.
The cast made up of Tim Dashwood (Jonathan Harker), Nick Skubij (Dracula), Ross Balbuziente (Jack Steward) Nelle Lee (Mina), Ashlee Lollback (Lucy), and David Whiteny (Van Helsing and Renfield) did a brilliant job in recreating believable versions of the beloved characters from Stroker’s masterpiece. There is something to say about a cast that can provide a new sense anticipation and suspense from a story that we have heard a hundred times.
We longed for Jonathan’s escape from castle Transylvania. We adored Lucy’s carefree attitude about love and men wanted her to survive the vampire curse. We eagerly waited to see if Jack Steward and Van Helsing would uncover the clues to discover what evil was upon them. We genuinely begged for Mina to resist Dracula’s charm to make her a vampire wife. We found ourselves filled with suspense as we waited to see if our heroes would be able defeat Dracula in time before it was all too late. We knew how the story would unfold but we still found ourselves questioning who would win in the end.
I have never been to a Shake & Stir production that I have not liked, but their adaptation of Bram Stroker’s Dracula is without a doubt one of their finest yet. With it’s beautiful costumes, complicated but hypnotising set design, its brilliant use of sound and lighting, non-stop action and superb cast, Shake & Stir’s production of Dracula will leave begging for a second viewing. To put it simply, one bite just isn’t enough!