Monday, October 18

Dracula: The Untold Story – Liverpool Playhouse

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and here we are on Route 66 (or should that be 666?), since that’s their year (read on…), and a young lady has just walked into a police station to confess to murder. But she says her name is Mina Harker…

And goodness, can she name drop – an affair with Picasso? And literally, because many of the people she encounters hit the deck. But is she as it were victim turned vigilante, seeking to rid the world of evil? Or does Dracula actually have a hand in this, not that the title isn’t a dead giveaway. Yet having slayed Dracula, she is seemingly possessed by him.

Mina travels the world hunting down the people from her nightmares who are plotting some kind of uprising. The police officers are bewildered by the murder of unknowns (keep reading…), although names such as Mussolini and Stalin are familiar to us. It’s not just the plot which is ingenious, the staging is so innovative, all those involved deserve credit: Simon Wainwright, for Projection and video design; Laura Hopkins, Design; Andrew Crofts, Lighting Design; James Hamilton, Music

The play opens in striking fashion, an interview room in appropriately Brutalist style, all concrete and stark lines, glaring lights casting sinister shadows, in grim contrast to the New Year’s Eve revelry outside. Mina has quite a story to tell. and what an impressive means of delivery: theatre, video and graphic novel, events playing out like a collage on the backscreen, with steps in front allowing the cast to step inside the narration: an Alternative Universe indeed. We are treated to a Pathé style newsreader putting us into the picture with fascinating headlines, eg, monster/mobster Beria, president of Russia.

You have to admire the cast on so many levels, again, literally, as they take their positions on the stage. Having your face projected on a huge screen must be unnerving, and with dialogue in various languages. Riana Duce, starring as Mina, carries the production on her fragile shoulders with considerable aplomb. making sure the audience fully engages to gain their sympathy. As for good cop, bad cop, excellently played, and tricky, both are so incredulous. Adela Rajnovic, calmer and more inclined to believe Mina, proves an excellent foil to the blustering, Sweeneyesque Matt Prendergast whose job includes lighting the doom and gloom and scary bits with humour.

I should have loved to give this 4* because it was so different, a unique, chilling theatrical presentation with a tremendous twist in the tale, but unfortunately – a little too clever for its own good; although the few comic bits worked well, it could also be unintentionally funny. The monologues were occasionally too complex to follow, while some of the positions on screen meant the cast adopting extremely uncomfortable hence distracting postures on the stage; you worried more about bad backs than bad people. Then, having opened with a firework display, the ending disappointingly sputtered out, a damp squib.

Nonetheless, thoroughly absorbing entertainment for a welcome return, at long last, to the Playhouse. Playing until the 16th October, see https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/dracula-the-untold-story for further details and tickets.

Reviewer: Carole Baldock

Reviewed: 12th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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