Reviewed – 27th March 2022
“The show moves at a good pace, and it’s steeped in moody sound and stage effects”
Actor James Gaddas doesn’t lack ambition. It’s not every established actor who would go to the trouble of adapting Bram Stoker’s sprawling novel Dracula, and turn it into a one man show. And yet Stoker’s nineteenth century horror story is eminently stageworthy. Dracula is not just a horror film classic. Stoker, was, after all, a successful theatre manager as well as an author. His writing is steeped in theatricality, and Dracula is no exception. The story is packed with all sorts of unforgettable theatrical moments, quite apart from the memorable characters. Gaddas’ adaptation of Dracula, assisted by director Pip Minnithorpe, with set and costume design by Lee Ward, and illusion designer John Bulleid, is a meticulous homage to Stoker’s classic. And it’s somehow appropriate that this tour should begin at the beautifully restored RIchmond Theatre, which opened the same year that Dracula was published. Bram Stoker would approve.
That said, there is also the sense that Gaddas doesn’t quite manage to tame his material, and wrangle it into one man show size. While Gaddas is shrewd enough to retain large amounts of the original text while taking on a variety of roles, he doesn’t quite trust Stoker’s story enough. Gaddas shows great versatility in playing male and female roles —ranging from American to Romanian — alive, dead, and undead. He has an engaging stage presence, and a loyal following among his fans. But he is not content to stop there. Gaddas’ adaptation of Dracula becomes more than just a retelling of a nineteenth epistolary novel. He adds on the story of an actor — himself — who is hired to host a twenty first century documentary about vampires. It’s the kind of television show that promises ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. Things get out of hand as Gaddas becomes gets too involved with his job. He gets obsessed with a mysterious journal that hints at more than Stoker’s original story. That Professor Van Helsing in Stoker’s novel may not have managed to destroy the vampire Count after all. Gaddas’ obsession with discovering the truth in the legend brings him to the brink of insanity — not unlike the character Renfield in the original Dracula. This embellishment to the original tale does allow Gaddas to bring it firmly into the twenty first century, and add some charming, self-deprecatory laugh lines. But the add on also detracts from the horror of Stoker’s novel. Which, for Dracula, is sort of the point.
Nevertheless, this version of Dracula remains a good evening’s entertainment. The show moves at a good pace, and it’s steeped in moody sound and stage effects. The set design is almost too cluttered — more suited to an incident room in a television police drama series. It does allow for the set designer and illusion designer to spring a few shock moments on the audience as the show proceeds however. Gaddas himself holds the attention whether he’s chilling your blood as a vampire, or wondering why, as an actor immersed in his research, his wife has taken to sleeping in the spare bedroom. This Dracula is a different take on horror, and is well suited to an actor of Gaddas’ range. It is less frightening than sitting at home alone, reading Bram Stoker’s novel, but for family audiences, that can only be a good thing.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
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