At Hove’s The Old Market, the stage was spectacularly set for a ghoulish night of horror (and light-hearted entertainment) for fast-approaching Halloween. Unfortunately, Le Navet Bet’s performance of Dracula: The Bloody Truth left me horrified for all the wrong reasons – a shambles of slapstick that was briefly amusing at some moments but by the end was utterly exhausting.
The cast, made up of four men multi-rolling as Stoker’s infamous characters from the novel, began the performance in a promising manner with them each emitting an impressive level of energy and stamina to capture the audience’s attention. Professor Van Helsing, with an unconvincing Dutch accent that broke every now and then, led us through his intentions to teach us the real truth about the legend of Count Dracula that everyone believes they are aware of. In order to do this, the play established itself quickly as meta theatre with bumbling well-spoken actors attempting to follow the orders of the actor playing Van Helsing yet failing repeatedly. It had the intentions of using classic old-fashioned farce to mimic that of The Play Goes Wrong – gags such as props purposely breaking, sound effects being used at the wrong time and actors forgetting lines.
For the first few scenes, though ridiculous and all over the place, a comfortable relationship with the audience began to form which I think could have been explored even more – with Van Helsing breaking the fourth wall and talking to members of the front row to establish the bond needed in interactive and immersive theatre. The physical theatre, however, was temperamental in its comedic effect and didn’t quite match the sharp and slick nature of shows such as The 39 Steps. For instance, a quick horse and cart physical transition between scenes was used but it was messy and seemed un-rehearsed; leaving me questioning whether it was intentional or not. There was a tendency to bypass a comedic build up frequently throughout the play; jumping right into gags and then letting them be. Instead, they were relentlessly overworked for an awkward amount of time until all comic respect had been drawn out of them. This left the comedy wearing disappointingly thin just after the first half of Act One, yet I still had hope that perhaps it would pick up at some point – unfortunately, it never did.
There was definitely potential for the play to be a Horrible Histories-esque farce on Dracula. However it seemed uncertain in the direction it was taking and who it was aimed for. Undoubtedly, the children in the audience were the ones giggling the most, illustrating how an informative theatre experience for children on literature may have been a more effective directorial decision for them to take. Their inclusion of the odd adult joke and sexual reference – swearing when a prop up window sill fell on their hand seemed awkward and out of place for the type of humour. The best moments of the play were the stripped back, short but trustworthy gags; a simple repeated hat change as an actor switched between playing an old man and his son conversing front stage as they watch the arrival of a boat.
Ultimately, this performance was a slightly amusing attempt at a playful recounting of Dracula. Unfortunately, it lacked a real sense of direction and gags were hyper and clichéd – by the interval, the stage was physically falling apart as the actors rushed around attempting to fix it, much like the play itself.
Featured Image: The Old Market