There’s a massive difference between the quality of 5 star shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. I can easily see why people might enjoy Dracula and want to give it 5 stars, but then compare it to other 5 star comedy plays such as Police Cops or Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon, and Dracula looks a little dated. But perhaps that is an unfair comparison. Both Cops and Chronicles are a modern, energetic and edgy style of performance, whereas Dracula feels a little more traditional, and at a festival in which everyone aims to be modern and edgy, can be a breath of fresh air.
Dracula gets off to a fantastic start, the laughs come thick and fast and we’re introduced to all the usual Dracula tropes getting parodied during the first half. We meet the five main players of the piece, who all play multiple parts each. After a few fish out of water jokes about Jonathan Harker being in Transylvania, it wasn’t long until we came face-to-face with the star of the show, Dracula himself. Seemingly played as a weird amalgamation of all vampires that have ever been, he’s Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Leslie Nielsen and the Count from Sesame Street all rolled into one.
While the performance of Dracula is essentially a one joke character, it is played exceptionally well, with Dracula shuffling onto stage with tiny footsteps and drenching every line in an overboard, campy, Transylvanian accent. Harker largely plays the straight man to Dracula’s craziness and this seems to work well. During this, we flip back and forth to Blighty to follow the plot of Lucy choosing a husband. While it provides some hilarity, I did feel it slowed the flow of the plot somewhat.
The second half switches to Dracula in England. The play attempts to add some decent plot for the female cast too, with a subplot about the suffragettes and Mina Harker’s independence. It was a great idea to make the story of Dracula less sexist by adding in a subplot referencing the women’s rights movement, but the whole plot feels a little tacked on and actually ruins the ending. More later.
The first half is so funny, it made the second half feel a little dull. There were funny moments sure, but it feels like the second half is more about telling the plot. Van Helsing is introduced, and while the actor did wonderful work as minor characters in the first half and is brilliant as Renfield, the accent he chose for Helsing was difficult to understand at times, and during the musical number he sang in his accent, which made it impossible.
With Jonathan and Van Helsing both revealed to be against women’s rights, Mina joins Dracula, who has set his sights on her and they flee to Transylvania, making them protagonists of the piece. Dracula tells Mina that he may return to being a human if she loves him as much as he loves her and signs over all his wealth and property to her (for some reason). Mina reveals she does love Dracula and fakes his death to put Van Helsing and Jonathan off the trail as Mina reveals she despises Jonathan and she stays in Transylvania with Dracula.
It’s at this point that I feel the writers wanted to add an ending that really hammered home the female empowerment message. So after Mina has declared her love for Dracula, and he has signed over his castle and riches to her, she tells him that she is leaving to explore the world and may not return, leaving him penniless and alone.
While I feel this is meant to be a ‘no man’s property’ message, it actually makes Mina look like a bit heartless. I mean she found her true love – bye! The tone of the ending felt really off for this comedy play. It’s certainly not a bad one at all, but a play that falls down in a few places. The cast for the most part are superb and obviously work very well together – the chemistry was impressive.
Dracula runs until August 27th at Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Above.
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A good comedy play that starts strong, but lacks that killer bite.
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