Talking Movies

November 19, 2013

Dracula

Dublin Castle marked their Hallowe’en weekend Bram Stoker Festival with a stripped down theatrical interpretation of Stoker’s original 1897 text in the Print Works space.

Bram Stoker Image

Jonathan Harker (Patrick Doyle) travels to Transylvania to make the final legal arrangements for Carfax Manor being signed over to Count Dracula (Karl Shiels). He is warned off by the superstitious locals, and his coachman even attempts to dash past the rendezvous, but Harker’s perseverance pays off … to his misfortune. The Count is initially welcoming, but soon Harker realises he is trapped in a Gothic nightmare. His attempts to escape leave him a broken man in the care of Dr Seward (Neil Fleming) back in England. However, the mysterious death of Seward’s fiancé Lucy Westenra, and the ravings of another patient Renfield (Gerard Adlum) lead Seward to confess the truth to Harker’s wife Mina (Nessa Matthews); Lucy was killed by a vampire, and her emasculated husband was the first English victim of that ancient evil intent on conquest – Dracula…

The Print Works is a difficult space to stage Dracula, as the audience sits in a horseshoe arrangement of rows of chairs around a long raised runway. This works well for the initial scenes as Harker brushes off the peasants and makes his way down the runway towards Castle Dracula, and it allows Dracula some nice scares when he stalks among the audience to make his way onstage, but it makes it hard to be truly scary when there’s no grand guignol supply of squibs. Director Keith Thompson instead concentrates on using Stoker’s text to hypnotic effect. Patrick Doyle is a very effective Harker. His crisp English accent overlays a subtly played decline of Victorian confidence as grudging respect for the natives’ sincere concern morphs into panicked desperation and impotence. Karl Shiels is an impressive Count. His over-elaborate courtesy is deliciously played, and a nervous tic with his hand betrays the immense bloodlust he is restraining. The weird sister (sic) makes a creepy appearance indebted to The Ring, but the true power lies in Harker and Dracula’s twisted relationship. Mark Curry’s lighting dims to two spotlights on the pair in the large dark room, to focus the impressive sound design by Jody Trehy and Cian Murphy onto Stoker’s language of sensuous rush as Dracula attacks both Harker’s blood and being.

Stephen King dubs Dracula’s vanishing act from his own story one of “English literature’s most remarkable and engaging tricks”, but it breaks the spell of this performance. Jumping from Harker’s escape attempt to Mina visiting Lucy’s grave is disconcerting enough, but then Van Helsing, Godalming and Morris are composited into Dr Seward; and Dracula without Van Helsing is like the Brat Pack without Judd Nelson. This may not disconcert people unfamiliar with the novel, and it works structurally in creating a lean tale, but it also makes Seward and Harker look quite dim. Mina deduces Dracula’s powers and weaknesses not by mastering the chaotic journals and notes of five disorganised men, unaware that they’re working the same case, but by pointing out the obvious to a doctor and his patient. This tragically undermines the character’s strength, despite Nessa Matthews’ commanding presence. Adlum is an unexpectedly restrained Renfield, who’s delusional enough to delightfully fix his hair before meeting Mina, while Fleming exudes decency and gravitas as Seward. Matthews provides the best scare, shrieking when Seward tries (too late) to spell her against Dracula using a communion wafer, but once Dracula fades from the story the power of this production steadily ebbs away as well.

Thompson coaxes fine performances as he delivers half of an impressive adaptation here, mounted with gorgeous costumes by Sarah Finlay, but the complications of Stoker’s novel ultimately defeat him.

2.75/5

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September 20, 2013

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Dario Fo’s most celebrated play receives an exceedingly energetic but ultimately misjudged production at the New Theatre in Temple Bar.

AccidentalDeath_TopPick

A madman, who likes to torment blustering local Garda (Paul Kealyn), worms his way into the corridors of power and, passing himself off as a judge conducting an inquiry, grills all the police officers present when an anarchist ‘accidentally’ fell off the 4th floor of police headquarters. Distractingly the characters retain names like Bertosi despite wearing Garda uniforms. The panicked Inspector (Neil Fleming) tries to maintain his alibi in the face of increasingly damning questions, dragooning the obviously guilty Superintendent (Rory Mullen) into buttressing the madman’s increasingly elaborate and supposedly helpful alibi for the alibi, as it were. They’re aided in their attempts to fabricate a narrative by the idiotic Constable (Paul Elliot, giving the most understated and effective performance), and hindered by the late-arriving crusading journalist (Dagmar Doring). But this is Hard Candy without any attempt at ambiguity; the dramatic dice are fatally loaded.

The play is dominated by a certified madman, but that doesn’t mean he has to be played as a madman. However, Patrick O’Donnell plays him from the get-go as Graham Norton meets Jim Carrey, with some grace notes from John Cleese as Basil Fawlty increasingly evident after the interval. This is not without merit by any means. There are many scenes which are screamingly funny because of this approach, but there are many more scenes which would work if played subtly that fail miserably because of this OTT tack. Cleese didn’t play Basil as screaming and prancing from start to finish, there were escalating levels of madness thru which Basil would reach his peak of manic exasperation. This production asks its cast en masse to start at full volume, which, toning it down being verboten, leaves them nowhere to go…

Director Peter Reid’s gloss on Simon Nye’s translation is a greater worry. An anti-austerity song is amusing, but seems pandering; but then it’s followed by an abortion zinger so pointed it’s not part of the play, but a statement of political credo – so much so that someone in the audience cheered loudly when it was delivered. This pulls you out of the theatre, and the madman’s subsequent lengthy speech on how religion reinforces capitalist hegemony annoys because Shaw would instantly produce an opposing argument; but here you’re expected to nod your head approvingly. Euripides with the Trojan Women challenged his fellow Athenian Imperialists to reflect on their conduct, Shakespeare with his history plays challenged his fellow countrymen to dream the England he was imagining for them, but this production merely asks Irish socialists to slap themselves heartily on the back.

If you believe theatre is an arena where you bask in the glory of your own beliefs then this will satisfy – but surely theatre aims for more than that?

2/5

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