We may be a little more than a week away from Halloween but Humdrum are offering up a classic slice of horror at The Spring to get people in the mood. As director James George points out, Dracula might no longer be a story that truly shocks, but there is still enough here to make the audience uneasy and at its heart this is a classic story regardless of whether it will make you jump out of your seat.
Liz Lochhead’s adaptation of the story packs in most of the meatier moments of the book, giving most of the actors ample opportunity to stretch themselves, Gemma Valler’s Mina may ostensibly be the centre of the story but here the characters we spend most time with are her younger sister Lucy and the asylum inmate Renfield.
Leila Millson makes Lucy the opposite of her sister. Where Valler is sweet and mostly even tempered, Millson mines the emotional leaps of her character, changing mood in a heartbeat. The two work incredibly effectively together.
Michael Gondelle provides balance as Harker, staying emotionally strong even as the growing horror of his visit to Transylvania becomes apparent.
Renfield is, in his way, our guide through the story. Knowing more than he should due to his connection to and manipulation by Dracula he is of course considered mad, but in his babbling he foretells every step of our journey. Ben Counter gives a powerful performance, where the lunatic is often played as poetic, Counter’s jittery, jagged approach to his dialogue makes the character all the more troubling. His fellow inmates recognise his clarity as the doctors, nurses and orderlies hear only babble.
Of course, without the right person in the title role even the best production of Dracula can fall apart. In Jonathan Grant Humdrum have unearthed a gem. A towering physical presence, Grant is also an assured actor despite this being his debut. He delivers his lines softly, forcing you to focus on every word, relishing the archaic winding roads of each sentence. Despite his hunched posture he looms menacingly over his fellow actors, for all that he moves slowly he embodies strength and speed. Quite simply, when he is on stage you cannot stop watching him!
As well as directing George also appears in the second act as Van Helsing, providing the backbone of the quartet who hunt down Vlad. Stifling his ‘king laugh’ to set about his gory mission he is both friend and counsellor to Harker, his new bride and Dr Seward (Mike Palmer, sweet and caring in the first act as Lucy’s suitor and increasingly unhinged as he comes to realise his world of science cannot account for all the truths of the world).
Elsewhere there are numerous opportunities for the cast to show what they can do (including a poignant moment for Tasmin Halford’s Florrie as she bares her soul on receiving a letter that she cannot read, but she knows will turn her world upside down).
Lochhead’s often rambling script relies on the audience knowing a lot of the story as she jumps around with little exposition, but while the plot may be skittish she allows the characters plenty of space to show themselves and the cast here all make the most of that.
If you want jump-out-of-your-seat scares or deep psychological horror you may come away disappointed but if you want to see an excellent cast turn their hand to the pinnacle of gothic horror then you’ll not do better than this!