A bloodied woman draped in white lies on a table. A monk in habit and hood stands over her. A half naked Dracula appears and draws a knife clean across his neck, oozing thick blood from the wound. Musicians rupture into a loud, full-on song.
In fact, everything about this steampunk rock-musical-Dracula is full on: costumes comprised of tattered waistcoats, various hats and frilly shirts; sets made of rusty metal frames; a band that consists of reverb-heavy guitars, trombone, organ, drums and a poor drowned out flute. Alexandra Spencer-Jones has barred no holds in adapting and directing Bram Stoker’s legendary piece of gothic horror.
Between songs – a shrieking string cover of Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’, a punky ‘Thistle And Weeds’ by Mumford and Sons, ‘Creep’ by Radiohead – the actors play out the famous story of Count Dracula with a few twists; for instance Jack Seward is now a woman and she is in love with Lucy Westenra.
Every cast member not only acts but also plays multiple instruments and sings. They give the production a biting intensity, writhing and posing with powerful physicality, singing like angels one moment and demons the next. But they also keep things fun, turning some of the horror elements to silliness with dramatic pauses (“welcome to… Transylvania!”) or big gestures, and drawing out comic moments with a bit of ham, creating a similar feel to Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein.
Renfield, the lawyer whom Dracula has sent mad, is played to a psychotic extreme by Adam Clifford. He plucks a fly from the air and eats it, his wild hair and blaring eyes complement his erratic delivery as he moves in and out of voices, shifting pitch, whelmed in some mental turmoil. Jonno Davies as Dracula crawls and jerks across the stage, constantly stop-starting as if moving in and out of slow motion. He channels something frightening and otherworldly, and rarely wears a top.
Action To The Word has turned this well worn story into an aesthetically decadent, ferocious and bloody musical feast that breathes new and ungodly life into some of literature’s most famous characters.