The opening night’s weather for the latest production by Holyrood Amateur Theatrical Society (HATS) was reminiscent of the one that carried Count Dracula to Whitby as a black dog in the 1897 epistolary novel by Bram Stoker, as the arched roof of St Bride’s was battered and attacked by the howling wind like demons trying to enter.
This version of Dracula is an adaptation by Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s new makar, so is full not only of guid Scots words and phrases but abounds in puns and tongue twisters, particularly for the character, poor mad man Renfield, played fearlessly and frighteningly by Jacques Kerr. There are of course references to blood, both subtle and overt, throughout.
The story is about a young solicitor, Jonathan Harker (David McFarlane), who is sent abroad to deal with the affairs of a wealthy Count. His fiancée, Mina Westerman (Kirsty Hunt) is having premonitions about his trip which turn out to be founded as Count Dracula arrives in England, unwittingly aided by Harker, to reap his vampire terror on Mina, her sister Lucy (Natasha Stiven) and beyond.
St Bride’s Centre was the ideal venue with its high church arches and long black drapes. The set was sensibly minimal (a single bed and a table and chairs) with row of chairs at the back seating the cast needed for each scene, each stepping forward to character as needed.
This sounds utilitarian, but it worked because of the strength of acting skills in this cast. HATS is an enthusiastic and ambitious amateur group whose other recent production was an Alasdair Gray piece. This is not ‘village hall’ stuff. Even one front of house staff (Jacqui Lamb) was in character, greeting as a glamorous cross between Morticia Addams and Cruella Deville – warm and friendly version!
Updating a text can create problems and while the style of clothes was modern, Lochhead’s language was rich and stylised and in keeping with another era. As the acting was so good, overall the idea of time didn’t really matter, but the laptop/notebook seemed like a screaming anachronism to write a letter.
The Dracula story is full of sexual undertones and Natasha Stiven (Lucy Westerman) played his willing and wanton victim with the sensuous vulnerability of Sarah Miles in the film, Ryan’s Daughter.
To sinister strings, Alan Patterson played a deep-eyed, draped Dracula with claw-like hands as he silently and menacingly enveloped his prey. Under the lights’ red glow and with his black suit and slim red tie like a trickle of blood, he gave a real sense of Dracula beneath the cloak.
The saviour of the drama, Professor van Helsing was magnificently and confidently played by the imposing Stephen Oswald and Kate Gwynn as the Westerman sisters’ maid, Florrie Hathersage, was quietly convincing throughout in this genuinely chilling piece of theatre.
3rd, 4th and 5th February 2011, 7.30 pm
HATS ticket line: 07896 198632
St Bride's ticket office: 0131 3461405