Mini-review – Dracula – Whitby Abbey

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Of all things, I did not expect to see a live performance while doing my standard tourist bit of wandering around an English Heritage site during my holiday in Whitby. But there were the signs – “Dracula, 11:30, 1:30, 3:30,” and the woman at the front desk assured me it was free, started soon, and only ran for an hour. This had me 90% on board (10% suspicious that it was going to be horrible), but while I sat on the grounds and ate my nice hog roast sandwich, I heard a family assuring another one that the show was great “and really funny.” Well, I hadn’t imagined Dracula as a comedy, but it was the kind of enthusiastic recommendation money can’t buy, and a funny version of this play sounded far more entertaining than “an attempting to be frightening” one. Besides, I was interested in seeing how they incorporated the abbey into the production. I wolfed down the remainders of my sandwich and trotted over to the visitors center to join the milling soon-to-be audience.

The afternoon started with a panto style warm up, in which we were coached a bit on our booing and cheering, warned about not tripping over lighting cables, and given pre-written questions by what appeared to be the compere; he then said he was going to “just walk that way” and look for his friend Johnathan Harker, “who looks an awful lot like me.” This cue about actors being double cast was probably helpful to the children in the audience (seemed like there were at least ten) but was also very funny and typical of an element of calling out the artificiality of the production to humorous effect throughout the show.

As it turns out, this whole show was actually done by only three actors (and a large basket), which was pretty impressive considering each of them did at least four different people. It was pretty comic, though, to have Dr Van Helsing, Vampire Hunter, also playing Count Dracula. The kids worked this out pretty quickly and kept reminded the actors “but it’s actually you” and “of course you can’t find him, you have to go change costumes.” Yet depite the close observation we kept the performers under, I never saw an actual costume change, and the highly mobile face of the one actress meant that with just a wig she easily went from uptight Mina to broadly comic Slavic townsperson to slutty Vampire Bride. Her best transormation was as Lucy (Mina’s friend); although she changed clothes, she mostly just changed her facial expression (like she was sucking a lemon) and still completely looked like a different person. Good job you!

Use of the Abbey was mostly perfunctory, I’m sorry to say, and I’m especially sorry they didn’t use the open stone coffin in any of the scenes (sticking instead the the much more mobile – and dryer- wicker basket). However, a clifftop scene in Whitby was nicely done in front of the south wall of the abbey, and of course the scenes set in a crypt (where Lucy is captured) – done in the Nave, with the big columns – and again in Dracula’s hiding place (performed in the transept) took full advantage of both hiding places, building features, and the general spooky atmosphere provided by the weathered stone. Of course, we didn’t do anything in the abbey’s crypt – I’m not sure if it hasn’t collapsed – but it was all real enough to leave one six year old sobbing in fright at the end.

Sadly, the children were in general far TOO talkative, and while I enjoy seeing an actor forced to improv as much as the next person (the scene where Harker accused Van Helsing of attacking him with spit was great, and I loved watching the same actor attempt to explain away why the corpse of Lucy was shaking with laughter), one blond child really needing some restraining by his parents, as he got to the point where he was treating nearly every line as if it were being addressed to him personally and needed an answer. I thought this was just bad manners and thought his parents should have stopped being so amused and maybe pulled him aside to tell him that he needed to let the actors talk to each other because that his how a play works. However, they seemed to be nonexistent; but dead Lucy (when she returned as a vampire) did her best to let him know how little she appreciated his lack of control.

Overall, the show moved amazingly quickly through the scenes, and while it ran over (due to the kids, I think), I still found myself fully engaged throughout the production. It helped that the weather was mild and there wasn’t even a hint of rain; while those things add atmosphere they also sap your strength when you’re watching theater outdoors. Good job, you guys, hope to see you all performing again sometime soon!

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 31st, 2014. Final performances are today, November 1st. This TripAdvisor review has a nice photo that captures the atmosphere well.)

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One Response to “Mini-review – Dracula – Whitby Abbey”

  1. Mini-review – Dracula (the ballet) – Mark Bruce Company at Arts Depot | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] of shows I’m especially interested in. Well, this isn’t entirely true: I made it to Whitby Abbey to see the charming Dracula 5696 put on, but that wasn’t the reason I was in Whitby. No, I made to to the dark wild north – of […]

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