“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.
“doesn’t always capture the beauty of the novel, but it certainly wrings the emotion from the central themes and relationships”
Khaled Hosseini’s beautifully crafted debut novel, published in 1993, begins by telling the story of Amir, a young boy from the Kabul, and his close friend, Hassan. Hosseini successfully weaves an intimate saga of guilt and atonement into the framework of an epic backdrop. Although set against a backdrop of the tumultuous events – from the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion; the exodus of refugees and the rise of the Taliban – the reader is continually drawn into the minds of the main protagonists, and their personal battles and relationships. Presenting the grand scale of its setting with the small scale drama of the characters is always going to be a challenge. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation for the stage is faithful to the book and tells the story with startling clarity. It is inevitably condensed but Spangler manages to include all the key events without muddying the context.
We begin at the end. Afghani immigrant Amir is summoned from his California home to Pakistan by Rahim Khan, an old, dying friend of his father, who enigmatically tells Amir that “there is a way to be good again”. Rewind a quarter of a century and we meet Amir as a wealthy, privileged boy in Afghanistan, and his best friend, Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. When Hassan is brutally assaulted by a local bully, Amir is too scared to save him, and is tormented by feelings of guilt which follow him across the continents and generations. Barney George’s simple but effective set, dominated by a rising and falling kite, neatly evokes the central themes while also setting the scene – deftly transforming the Afghan landscape into the San Francisco skyline. Without having to worry where we are geographically and politically we are free to concentrate on the characters and the story. A story of love and betrayal, fathers and sons, good and evil, and the many grey areas in between.
David Ahmad, as Amir, is central to the drama, alternating between the role of narrator and then stepping into his reminiscences. The play does veer disproportionately towards telling us what happens rather than showing us, but Ahmad is a skilled storyteller whose portrayal is ultimately quite moving, especially in the closing moments when he learns some uncomfortable truths about his childhood. Equally strong support comes from Andrei Costin as the childhood friend, Hassan, who also doubles as his own orphaned son (apologies for the spoiler!) in the second act. Their alliance forms much of the political tension: their respective families coming from opposing ethnic backgrounds, although both becoming victims of the rise of the Taliban.
Dean Rehman cuts a formidable figure as Amir’s father, casting twin shadows of love and overbearing expectations over his susceptible son. The ensemble shift in the background between varying characters, occasionally coming to the fore to highlight key moments in the plot; particularly Lisa Zahra, who encapsulates wonderfully the patience and sorrow of Soraya, a fellow refugee of Amir who becomes his wife.
This production of The Kite Runner doesn’t always capture the beauty of the novel, but it certainly wrings the emotion from the central themes and relationships. In just over two hours we do get a pint-sized version, but it is a clear-cut potted history, thick with the atmosphere of a family saga; an atmosphere intensified by Jonathan Girling’s rhythmic soundscape, played live by Hanif Khan. Hosseini’s words are brought to life from the page in Giles Croft’s captivating production that orchestrates a man’s epic journey to the intimate tempos of his beating heart.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Irina Chira
The Kite Runner
Richmond Theatre until 14th March then UK tour continues