THERE was a time, I seem to recall, when Hallowe’en in Scotland was something more than a horror-movie spin-off; when ghoulies and ghosties were more home-spun, and people genuinely dooked for apples, or attempted to eat treacle scones hanging from a string.
Dracula, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****
Given the ever-closer association between this time of year and the booming horror genre, though, it makes every kind of sense for the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh to celebrate the occasion with the only Scottish dates of the latest stage version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; and although it’s not a subtle show, Jenny King’s powerful, filmic rewrite of the story for the Touring Consortium makes a hugely enjoyable two hours of pure stage entertainment, cheered to the echo by a youthful crowd on its opening night.
In outline, King’s version is commendably faithful to Stoker’s original novel, and brings a strong 21st century feminist awareness to the story of a Victorian English culture caught out by its refusal to recognise the sexual energy and desire of “respectable” young women, as stiff-upper-lipped lawyer Jonathan Harker heads to Transylvania to help the mysterious Count buy some property in England, only to find himself used as a portal through which the ever-ravenous Dracula can reach Jonathan’s fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy Westenra, and wreak havoc all across Yorkshire.
Eduard Lewis’s brisk two-hour production sometimes seems jolting and rough-cut, as the stage is repeatedly plunged into black to allow more horrors to emerge; and Sean Cavanagh’s ingenious but slightly distracting set whizzes in and out of position at a pace that betrays a script made more for screen than stage.
Yet if the play sometimes seems more “art of coarse vampire-hunting” than rich and resonant Victorian horror-story, it also boasts a range of more-than-decent performances from Andrew Horton as Jonathan, Olivia Swann as Mina and Jessica Webber as Lucy, and a remarkable one from the great Cheryl Campbell as an inspired female version of the asylum patient Renfield, one of Dracula’s earlier conquests.
And it reminds us that although Stoker was writing in the 1890s, the continuing fame and sheer popular appeal of his story is more than explained by his sharp psychological insight into the still-powerful forces of sexual repression and shame, and how they make us vulnerable to demons whose presence thrills us, but whose seductive and destructive power we can barely understand.
Final performances tomorrow