I’ll admit that I was sceptical when the Cog team decided that we’d be going to Jack Studio Theatre for our Halloween-themed October Cog Night. Housed within the Brockley Jack pub I worried that this might be an extremely amateur production.
I’m embarrassed about that now because the show was wonderful, the professional cast and crew were fantastic, and the theatre is (I’ve now discovered) hugely well respected. And it’s only a 15 minute drive from our studio. I really should have known better.
We entered the pub with very different previous experiences of the work. A couple of us had read the book; many had seen the Francis Ford Coppola production (Winona Ryder’s “Take me away from all this… death” is one of my favourite ever film lines); some knew only the Hammer reworking and I’m sure at least one of us only knew the character from Sesame Street.
The show was sold out so we queued to avoid being scattered across the 50 seats. We were late to the queue so we sat near the back. That wasn’t a problem. There are no bad seats.
I won’t re-count (see what I did there?) the story other than to say that they were pretty faithful to the epistolary style of Bram Stoker’s work. In a small but cleverly flexible set (by Francine Huin-Wah) characters weave, reading aloud, back and forth to build the narrative.
Ross McGregor’s adaptation was great throughout. The opening few minutes, in particular, were beautifully paced and gave context to the poetic lyricism of the dialogue in a way I’d not noticed in previous productions.
But for me, the first clear signal that we were in for a special evening was the misdirection of lighting that made Dracula appear from nothing. Great work from the production team and from the person working the sound and lights that evening (the actor Claire Bowman, apparently).
The whole cast were excellent but the two standout performances for me were the Cornelia Baumann’s bird-eating Renfield, and Alex Stevens as the spurned lover and asylum keeper Dr Seward.
There were ravishings and murders, betrayals and betrothals. There was a bit of Britney’s Toxic, and there was blood, lots and lots of blood. What’s not to like about that?
My only (and I suspect personal) problem with the play is that the last twenty minutes are so much less interesting and nuanced than the first hour and forty. But that’s much more to do with Bram Stoker’s storytelling than Arrows & Traps Theatre’s production.
In fact they added a twist to the end that gave me a whole new perspective on who was the villain of this piece. Next time I watch the film I’ll be rooting for Gary Oldman, hoping he’ll save Winona and take her away from all this… death.
Many thanks to Kate Bannister for sending us the production photos, by Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative.