Theatre Review: Dracula at The Leeds Playhouse

Northern Ballet’s Dracula marks the beginning of the company’s fiftieth anniversary and comes to The Quarry Theatre where Leo Owen caught the show

FOURTEEN years since its first Playhouse premiere in 2005, Northern Ballet’s Dracula truly is a revival with a whole new haunting opening sequence, costume redesigns and high-tech live streaming into cinemas.

Artistic Director David Nixon’s reimagining focuses on personal defining moments from Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel – one of the first being Jonathan Harker spying Dracula from a window scrambling headfirst down a castle wall. Designer Ali Allen’s dark gothic set transports us to Dracula’s eerie castle. Nixon’s choreography perfectly mirrors Dracula’s primal urges as he stealthily scuttles across the stage, yearning for Jonathan’s blood, torn between this desire and his own self-restraint.

Allen’s versatile set opens up to reveal Lucy Westenra’s initial courtship before abruptly shutting to completely black out the stage for Renfield’s spot-lit cage to be lowered. From the psyche ward, the action quickly skips to a fenced off graveyard and then moving scenes depicting Lucy’s funeral. In Nixon’s production the story moves fast with little time for stillness or reflection as the plot quickly but fluidly switches to vamp Lucy’s beheading and the burning of Dracula’s coffin crates in the foreground.

While the story is sped-up, Nixon allows time to fully appreciate the complexity of Mina and Dracula’s relationship. Their courtship is tender and full of sexual yearning with stormy choreography sweeping across the stage, despite a rather abrupt end in direct opposition to the closing of Stoker’s original novel.

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)’s compositions complement with disconcerting strings and additional pieces courtesy of Arvo Part, Segei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Michael Daugherty. Lighting, choreography and music marry to create a wholly creepy production.

While certain elements of Stoker’s story are perhaps too stripped back, there is little doubt this 2019 Dracula revamp is a slick production with plenty of bite and strong technically impressive whole cast performances.

Dracula showed at The Quarry Theatre October 29th –November 2nd: