BRAM STOKER’s DRACULA
Adapted and performed by James Gaddas
Directed by Pip Minnithorpe
Richmond Theatre – seen on 27 March 2022 – also touring
There have been numerous screen and stage versions of the Dracula legend over the decades, including a couple of musicals ranging from the misconceived to the riotously camp, but James Gaddas’s one man play proves an original, and splendidly theatrical, take. Gaddas mines the well known tale of the blood-sucking, permanently undead Count for all it’s gothic horror but parallels it effectively with a modern sort-of detective story.
Initially it looks as though we’re going to be in for a quietly engrossing lecture as Gaddas bounds on to introduce himself, taking up position behind a lectern, all spritely energy, actorly bonhomie and gently self-deprecating humour. He makes reference to his extensive popular TV work and describes being approached to front a documentary examining the discovery of a journal by Dracula author Bram Stoker that suggests that the vampiric saga is not at all a work of fiction and was only presented as such because the reality would have been too unsettling for general consumption.
Gaddas’s own text neatly mixes the portentous, heightened language of Stoker with an engaging, matter-of-fact reportage of his visit to the Count’s Romanian castle with a research team. The switching between the two stories could be a little better delineated perhaps. The modern strand of the storytelling takes an unsettling turn as members of this team variously meet grisly ends, suggesting that there are much darker forces at play. This reaches it’s apotheosis in a spinetingling finale, the details of which I’m not going to reveal here, that marries audience complicity, some essential plot points from pretty much every Dracula adaptation, and the same sort of inventive theatricality that has kept a show like The Woman In Black running in the West End for decades. Your rational mind will tell you that this is (probably) just a preposterous tall tale, but for these brief, delicious moments, it’s hard not to feel a lurch of pure terror.
A gifted character actor and raconteur, Gaddas is a personable stage presence, his relatability a major factor in drawing the audience in. He proves impressively adept at going from chummy affability to deep distress to almost unimaginable malevolence and back again, and Pip Minnithorpe’s enjoyable, well paced production repeatedly blurs the line between real life and fanciful fiction. Actor-author and director are aided immeasurably by an uneasy, occasionally blood curdling soundscape and film score-like music courtesy of Jeremy Swift. Matthew Karmios’s lighting and John Bulleid’s illusions are simple but very effective.
All in all, this is a mostly cracking piece of storytelling and a fine addition to the often neglected genre of theatrical horror. Nice, nasty fun.