Theatre Review: Sink your teeth into shake & stir’s bloody brilliant adaption of Dracula (At Brisbane’s QPAC to September 2nd)

Jonathan Harker has been sent to deepest, darkest Transylvania, to do business with the mysterious Count Dracula, who wishes to move to England. But the Count has goals far more sinister than merely purchasing property in Victorian London. Trapping Jonathan in his castle, he reveals himself to be a vampire, plotting to make England his newest feeding ground. After escaping and falling ill in Budapest, Jonathan returns home, only to find that Dracula has beaten him to England. It’s then a race against time, as vampire expert Professor Van Helsing steps in, leading Jonathan, Doctor Jack Seward, and Mina Murray, the object of both Dracula and Jonathan’s affections, into battle against this ancient and evil foe.

First premiering two years ago, Brisbane based shake & stir’s adaptation of the 1897 Gothic horror novel, Dracula toured Australia with a string of sold out performances, and received five Matilda nominations along the way. Featuring the core team of shake & stir, artistic directors Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij, and Ross Balbuziente, the play returns to where it all began, for a limited season at Brisbane’s QPAC.

Dracula feels like moving through a haunted house. From Eastern European accents and well placed thunder, to howling wolves, crosses going up in flames, and plenty of blood, it’s every bit a classic Gothic horror, and it’s damn near impossible to avoid getting swept up in Bram Stoker’s iconic tale.

Credit: QPAC

And it is, truly, Stoker’s tale. The use of voiceover pays a delicious homage to the epistolary style of the novel, and the play stays true to the original chain of events – albeit with a few less characters. But don’t let the absence of Quincey and Holmwood bother you, because the rest of the vampire hunters, along the main man himself, form a formidable bunch of talents.

David Whitney as Van Helsing gets a few tension breaking laughs in, while Michael Wahr‘s tortured Jonathan does much to heighten the sense of horror and fear. But it’s Dracula (Nick Skubij) and his sought-after bride Mina (Nelle Lee) that really get the blood flowing. Skubij‘s Dracula is the perfect mix of terrifying yet alluring, and Lee switches between the two sides of Mina’s character with ease, alternating the gentle Victorian lady with the sexual, predatorial vampire in the making. That Skubij and Lee are the key figures behind the adaptation should come as no surprise – their love and knowledge of the source material is evident in their impassioned and exciting performances.

It would be impossible to discuss Dracula without making reference to the stunning staging. Featuring a huge rotating set piece, the performance space is both practical and suitably dramatic, shifting locations and creating unnerving visuals with equal aplomb. The whole technical team deserves their own standing ovation, hitting lighting and sound cues with perfect precision, bringing those dark stormy nights, so beloved of classic horror, to life.

Credit: QPAC

Creating the perfect mix of spooky and sexy, shake & stir’s Dracula is, quite honestly, bloody brilliant. Injecting just the right amount of humour, even when the fake blood is flowing, it also serves up an impressive amount of jump scares. It’s kept well away from being gimmicky though, by an impressive collective performance from a cast that keeps the audience riveted, and a clever and well scripted adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Don’t miss this chance to see it in the intimate surrounds of the Cremorne Theatre.

The Count has taken up residence at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre until September 2nd.
For tickets, see the QPAC website.

Reviewer attended opening night on August 17th.
Image credit: QPAC