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by on 12 November 2022

Blood Count


by Bram Stoker adapted by Liz Lochhead

YAT at Hampton Hill Theatre until 12th November

Review by David Stephens

Thanks to the Hammer House of Horror, those of us above a certain age will always tend to recall the blood-shot eyes and dripping fangs of Christopher Lee whenever the name ‘Dracula’ is mentioned.  Such was the impact of these early, classic horror films on their audiences that the more subtle, original stories upon which they were based are often neglected.  Directors of many stage adaptations are often so fearful of disappointing their audiences by not including the now clichéd scenes made so famous by these movies, that they fall foul of having to include them, very often to the detriment of the story itself.

It was, therefore, pleasing to see that no-such mistakes had been made by the Youth Action Theatre in their production of this classic Gothic novel, adapted for stage by Liz Lochhead.  Under the guidance of director, Bill Compton, YAT have created a far more subtle version of this play, remaining true to the original novel and, in doing so, allowing the audience to find the requisite suspense and intrigue through the exploration of Bram Stoker’s words, whilst also telling the often neglected, tragic stories of the main characters and their descent from innocence into a world of madness and misery.

This enjoyable production was set against a highly complex and well-conceived lighting and tech design, creating a set which was, with the exception of steps leading up to a raised, central doorway, fashioned almost entirely of projected images.  This concept, together with the clever use of pausing the action on one side of the stage whilst bringing a second scene to life on the other, allowed the story to flow seamlessly between the many locations specified in Stoker’s novel.  One minute the audience find themselves in the Victorian home of the Westerman family and, the next, are transported to Dr Goldman’s harrowing lunatic asylum.  Here, as Dracula’s incarcerated disciple, Renfield, Matilda Brunger gives a chilling performance, drawing the audience into the claustrophobic world of the Victorian asylum and, further still, into the depths of the mind of this tormented individual whom she portrayed so very well.   Then, across the sea to Romania where the audience find themselves within the cold, dark walls of Dracula’s castle, eerily illuminated by only a crackling fire and wall-mounted torches.

Oliver Keaton, as Dracula, gave a more subtle portrayal of this often over-exaggerated role, and was somehow more likeable and seemingly more trustworthy as he sought to draw the unsuspecting Jonathan Harker into his horrific underworld, through a combination of charm, guile and hypnotic tone.  Harker, a solicitor representing the Count in his purchase of a home in England, played ably by Arthur Holmes, makes the journey to Romania in order to finalise matters.  Whilst a visitor in the castle, he is subjected to all manner of horrors, including experiencing lucid ‘dreams’ of being hunted down by three vampiric brides, and is soon so unwell that, escaping the castle’s walls, finds solace in a hospital where he is treated for his ailing mental and physical state.  Here he finally manages to send word back to his fiancée, Mina Westerman (Grace Allen) in England.  Learning of his plight, she immediately departs to be by his side, putting herself in mortal danger.

It was wonderful to see a production of such a high standard delivered by the youth of the local community.  The ensemble cast, also comprising of Juliet Hill as Lucy Westerman, Robyn Marriott as Florrie Hathersage (another excellent performance), Leah Dawson as Mrs Manners, Jonathan Ridd as Dr Goldman and Nisbett, Peter Barton as Dr Grice, Sam Isted as Dr Seward and Giothomson Nickson as a whacky and slightly comedic (but in a good way) Van Helsing, were all very well cast in these roles and their love of theatre and the stage was clearly evident through the energy and enthusiasm that they brought to these portrayals. 

Congratulations to YAT on a thoroughly enjoyable youth production, which reached the very high standards that we have come to expect from their shows.

David Stephens, November 2022

Photography by Joe Stockwell

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