The Smock Alley Theatre could have been built to host a show such as Dracula. The theatre was converted from a 19th-century church building and its hallowed stage exudes the very essence of the supernatural.
Dracula, originally written by Bram Stoker has been adapted by Anna Simpson and produced by Quintessence. The classic horror has been reimagined in a slick, minimalist performance by a five-star cast; Colin Flynn, Fiona Keenan, O’Brien, Anthony Kinahan, Roisin McAtamney and Leah Rossiter.
The unnerving atmosphere is immediately palpable from the stage production. Plumes of smoke waltz through the dim lighting to ambient, ominous background music. The minimalist style is evident from the three-step ladders and boxes aligned onto the stage.
The play opens with one of our protagonists, Patient 1754, or John Seward (Flynn), scrummaging among a number of papers strewn across the stage floor. The unsettling tone is crystallised by the three psychiatric nurses that somewhat twitch as they speak as if they lack any semblance of natural communication.
The production is almost entirely without props. Rather the actors use miming and sound to create the impression of props, which is entirely effective and engaging. A particularly interesting technique was to use an actor to portray a mirror via exact mimicry, only to be smashed shortly after.
Scene transitions are achieved through the movement of the staple six props consisting of the three boxes and step ladders. Between scenes, the actors gracefully switch up the positioning of these props to create different environments, to huge effect.
In more emotionally explicit scenes, music is used to convey emotion, with Experience by Ludovico Einaudi creating an especially potent scene. John Seward and his unrequited love, Lucy Westenra, yank at the heartstrings in this, particularly melancholic scene.
The first half of the play serves to establish the main characters and set up the conflict that characterises the second half. It comprises a number of memorable scenes, such as the feeding of the Weird Sisters upon Jonathan Harker (Keenan O’Brien). Their sinister, unnatural movements and sounds meld first into a sensual, erotic dance and finally into an animalistic feeding frenzy.
The eponymous character of Dracula is played by numerous members of the cast, but first by Kinahan. In this incarnation, Dracula oozes with a powerful presence and cold command. His next incarnation (Keenan O’Brien), merely advances the plot as Kinahan assumes another role.
The first half is littered with rather humorous scenes, with much of it deriving from McAtamney’s performance as Lucy and her interaction with Rossiter’s Mina Harker. McAtamney stands out in the triple proposal scene, which was choreographed in a dynamic fashion that showcased each actor’s comedic timing, and Flynn’s rather thoughtful performance as John.
Flynn’s performance stands out right from the beginning. The tale is told via flashbacks transcribed in his notes and thus his twin characters of John and Patient 1754 are sporadically, but effectively juxtaposed. As 1754, Flynn is manic yet composed, a man tragically mistaken for mad.
As John, Flynn absolutely shines. Even though John is an acclaimed psychiatrist and truly intelligent individual, his thoughtful, kind proposal to Lucy fails to secure him his true love. His reaction highlights the gentleness intrinsic to his otherwise stiff disposition.
Where the first half of the play contains an implicit trace of the supernatural, the second half explicitly examines those elements of the play. The character of Abraham Van Helsing (Kinahan) acts as a cryptic gateway into the explicitly supernatural.
While Kinahan crafted an imposing, eerie Dracula, his Van Helsing truly demonstrates the range of his acting capability. Van Helsing is an eccentric, mysterious figure that creates much of the humour in the play with offbeat one-liners.
The play’s finale brings together the six main characters in two conflicts. The first sees the resolution of John’s arc with Lucy in a rather beautifully choreographed moment. The second ends somewhat abruptly with the demise of Dracula at the hands of our main characters.
The scene fades back into the initial asylum setting as the robotic psychiatrists taunt John for his perceived delusions. The absence of verification from John’s friends begs the final question as to whether the narrative was entirely true or merely was a figment of John’s delusion.
Overall, the performance was absolutely enthralling. The minimalist style, intoxicating atmosphere and stellar performances revamped the classic horror in a way that was emotionally engaging and thrilling to the core.