Review: SUSU Theatre Group’s Dracula @ The Annex Theatre, 2/11/23

Big slay

Stakes were high at Theatre Group's opening night of Dracula and, as always, they didn’t cease to amaze (and terrify!).

  • 9.1

It being November, I thought I was ready to say goodbye to Halloween, but SUSU Theatre Group (TG) had more spooky and sinister things in store.

Image of Dracula (Richard Orebela) in a crazed hunger for blood

Photo credit: Theatre Group

Stakes were high at last night’s performance of ‘Dracula’ as this was SUSU Theatre Group’s very first performance of the academic year and, as always, they didn’t cease to amaze (and terrify!).

Directors Kat Fevyer, Charis Heaven and Emily Norman have pulled off a brilliantly chilling horror that somehow still weaves in scenes that makes you laugh. A special shout out goes to Fevyer, who stepped in at the last minute to play Lucy Westenra as the actress (Emily Dennis) was taken ill. Fevyer rose to the challenge and, remembering her lines better than one or two of the actual cast, seamlessly debuted the role. Had I not been told prior to the show of the switch, I would have been none-the-wiser. It’s a shame Dennis couldn’t perform; having seen her in previous productions, I’m sure she would have killed it!

Stand out performances for me included those from Richard Orebela, Robin Mooney and Jessica Laws-Robinson, who all had impressive characterisation, especially when pulling off moments of sinister mania. Another highlight of the show were the haunting sequences of choreographed movement from the vampire brides who – if you’d pardon the pun – slayed. All four (India Browning, Soraya Fahmy, Tyler Raynes and Tezni Williams) were bewitching as an ensemble and I can still hear their menacing cackles ringing in my ears. Props to India Browning for choreographing these sequences, which provided tension-building eeriness to mask some long scene changes.

A snippet of the physical theatre-style movement performed by Dracula's vampire brides.

Photo credit: Theatre Group

Solicitor Jonathan Harker, played by Sam Pegg, visits Transylvania to close a deal on an English estate for – you guessed it – Count Dracula (Richard Orebela). But soon the Count’s hunger for blood grow and he’s already got his eyes set on Harker’s fiancée, Lucy Westenra. In this first scene, Pegg’s portrayal of the timid and unnerved Harker acts as the lens through which the audience meets the Count. Throughout the play, I was impressed Orebela’s performance of Dracula’s sporadic and unpredictable temperament, convincingly switching between despair, anger, and evil. His use of an unsettling nervous tick helped to build tension for when the next loud and raging outburst was coming.

The following scene, featuring the Westenra family (Nathaniel O’Shea, Emily Dugdale and Kat Fevyer), provided some light relief with a brilliantly comedic characterisation from Fletcher Stafford, playing the drunken old butler. I didn’t imagine I’d be laughing at a gothic horror play, but this combination of actors, along with Pietro Andreotti, playing Arthur Holmwood, make for a humorous respite from the sinister goings on. In this scene, we also meet the elegant friend of Lucy Westenra and Arthur’s betrothed Mina Murray (Jessica Laws-Robinson). While Laws-Robinson plays the character with grace, you truly get to see her versatility as an actress in Act Two.

Image of the drunken butler, played by Fletcher Stafford.

Photo credit: Theatre Group

The second act introduces our vampire-busting crew: Van Helsing (Alberto Berni); Renfield (Robin Mooney); Dr Peter Seward (Ben Mansell); and Seward’s servant (Oliver Hickling). All were convincing and confident in their roles. Berni and Mansell had naturalistic performances of their contrasting cocky-vampire-slayer and nervous-doctor roles. Mooney’s Gollum-like characterisation and voice work really brought the deranged and frantic Renfield to life.

Image of Renfield (Robin Mooney) during his psychotic break.

Photo credit: Theatre Group

I have seen many shows in the Annex Theatre, but never have I seen quite so many lights! The lighting design perfectly complimented the acting, with underlighting for sinister moments, red washes for flashes of anger and lighting cues synced with the sound of the harp, played beautifully by Tezni Williams. Major props to the technical directors, Cerys May, Dan Money and Ali Treanor, along with the rest of the crew – StageSoc has out-done itself with the lighting!

This interpretation of ‘Dracula’ includes the occasional line change in an attempt to bring it into the 21st century, however, these sometimes aren’t quite cohesive with other parts of the script and some of the costumes. However, this is forgivable when you consider the impressive lighting and sheer talent on stage.

Somehow TG always manages to put on shows that have got it all: comedy; terror; stage combat; stakes (and salad apparently). If you’re not ready to say goodbye to Halloween, check out ‘Dracula’ at the Annex Theatre between 2nd and 4th November. ‘Dracula’ promises no tricks, just treats!


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