Art Review: Dracula

Dir. Hanni Shinton, Art School, 4-6 December

The Art School has always been shrouded in mystery for me, one of those things that you regard distantly for fear that to engage with it directly would be to break some sort of spell, or to smudge an idealistic illusion – this is the best excuse I could find for never having set foot in it. To wind up there on a freezing Monday night in a sleepy daze (halfheartedly trying to prod my brain to remember any useful information about Stoker’s novel outside of the stereotypic tropes it’s been reduced to) to see this semester’s STaG mainstage production of Liz Lochhead’s adaptation of ‘Dracula’ certainly made for a first impression.

Lochhead’s Dracula pans the spotlight on Jonathan Harker, a recently admitted solicitor from England who travels to everyone’s favourite fanged Count’s Transylvanian estate to supply legal advice in his move from his isolation in the Carpathian Mountains to the fresh-aired shores of England (frankly the least believable facet of this story). Jonathan has an interesting caucus of acquaintances whom he manages to drag into his death dance with Dracula: his fiancé Mina and her excitable sister Lucy, his asylum-overseeing psychologist friend Dr Seward (and his raving patient Renfield, who thankfully isn’t just marginalized as “Dracula’s henchman”, and supernatural-suspecting rival Van Helsing), and some comic-relief additions in the asylum staff and residence employees.

There’s always a delicate line between an accent being lightly humorous and vaguely offensive; STAG’s Dracula toed the line deftly, without reflecting much on the xenophobic intimations of Stoker’s story. Dracula himself was as magnanimous a character as ever, flipping between tongue-in-cheek one-liners and instances of brazen, chilling anger convincing enough to make your spine crawl PDQ. But the focus of Lochhead’s adaptation is the revolving cast of characters that the solidly acting, praise-worthily costumed cast put forth. In the midst of showcasing artfully minimalist scenography and the strobe light fetish that has infected live shows across the land, the actors spend a couple of hours more or less successfully convincing us that they’re more interesting than the eponymous Dracula.

[Natasha Baldassare]

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