Mission: Dracula!

Gentle reader, there is a rational limit to being an enthusiastic supporter. In London, that limit is the M25. Travel further than that to see something, such as a particular theatre company you quite like, and you risk opening yourself to accusations of not being rational. Fortunately, I have friends who are willing to indulge in a little bit of irrationality with me. Either that or they’re afraid I’ll come a cropper if I’m allowed to stray too far out of view. (Addendum: the person who most frequently pokes fun at me for my Fitzrovia enthusiasm is my curmudgeonly housemate, which I feel is distinctly unjust as he’s been to see them with me on at least three separate occasions.)

In either case, without too much persuasion I managed to convince neighbour Pootling Paul, his wife Hannah, and Curmudgeonly Housemate to accompany me to Colchester to see the Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s new production of Dracula. I hadn’t been planning to go (“Colchester? What are you, holding the next show in MORDOR?”) but I saw some photos of the set designed by Lucy Bradridge and I became seized (dramatic music seized!) by an overpowering desire to see the show.

Thus my merry little band and I found ourselves blinking in the weak misty sunlight of an autumnal Colchester afternoon, gasping as our lungs accustomed themselves to non-grimy, non-London air. Colchester declares itself to be More than Britain’s oldest recorded town, though it has not seen fit to specify what it is more of. En route to the theatre, we speculated.  Paul may have improvised some comic songs on the subject set to jaunty popular tunes.  (Actually Colchester is charming and Curmudgeonly Housemate is threatening to move there.  Maybe if I keep saying nice things about it he’ll actually go.)

Thus we arrive at Dracula, where the intrepid cast host a 1930s recording of the story at Broadcasting House for us, the studio audience.  They’ve even brought a genuine Romanian count all the way from Romania to lend authenticity to the title role… he’s been delayed by poor weather, which is also affecting the electric lights in the studio, and the boiler seems to be smoking an awful lot, but we’ll press on anyway, shall we?

My favourite thing about this production is, naturally, David Benson’s fantastic Dracula cape which he swooshes about with merry abandon throughout the show.  My only regret upon seeing it is that I didn’t have the foresight to bring my own much-loved opera cape so that I too could indulge in some post-show swooshing. Trying to swoosh in a buttoned-up leather jacket is far less effective no matter how enthusiastically you go at it.

Yes, all the usual wonderful sound effects are there, with crunching gravel, splashing rain, shipwrecks, clanking locks, stone tombs being opened, creaky doors, gunshots, and a particularly gory bit with a piece of celery.  I especially like the solemnity with which Jon Edgley Bond removes his dinner jacket and dons an apron to execute the messiest sound effects during the show’s gruesome crescendo.

Joanna Wake, playing a range of characters, has me in stitches in a bit she and Fiona Sheehan share going to great lengths to get the attention of matinee idol Bond.  I think we can all safely say that Wake wins that round.  She’s also a dab hand at deploying biscuits to great comic effect. Sheehan gets some fantastic moments of her own, particularly coming alive (or more precisely, undead) as the show progresses.  Her tenacity in maintaining focus during a lovely rendition of “The Moon Got in My Eyes” with Benson prancing about behind her indulging in hilarious Draculean antics is admirable.

Accompanying Sheehan on piano and providing general musical duty throughout is Tom Mallaburn.  Mallaburn’s increasingly gormless smile as he deliberately misses notes in the tune he is playing while the audience enters perfectly sets the tone.  Benson’s creepy count has marvelous encounters with each of the cast, but some of my favorite moments are watching Mallaburn’s reactions as Benson leers over him.  The whole radio show is hosted with a dapper congeniality by Dan Starkey, who plays the character of Van Helsing the vampire hunter with the fully required amount of Dutchness and a deliciously surplus amount of pathos during his death scene.

After the show my friends and I piled out of the theatre, doing our best Dracula impressions through the streets of Colchester and vowing to refer to our local pub from now on as “The Prospect of” (cue overwrought Romanian accents) “FFFVVVIIIIIIIIIITBY!” (Whitby is where much of the action takes place in Dracula. The Prospect of Whitby is where much of our drinking takes place in Wapping.)

It’s very important to find people who share your particular brand of silliness and keep them close when the rest of the world is trying to be serious.  Fortunately this weekend I had them in spades, and we had an extra excuse for silliness with this effervescent production by Fitzrovia Radio.