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This I saw on Friday, in company with the lovely ms_siobhan and planet_andy. It takes its cue from the 1922 film Nosferatu, but it certainly isn't a straightforward adaptation of it. Rather, it is set entirely on board the ship carrying Count Orlok from Varna to Whitby, and follows the experiences of three surviving ship-mates (one fervently religious, one superstitious, one harshly rationalistic) as they are driven to terrible thoughts and deeds by their dread cargo in a single dark hour before the coming of the dawn.

Those ship-board scenes, of course, are also in Stoker's novel, not to mention many other versions of Dracula. Indeed, this stage play began with the captain scribbling furiously in his log, narrating entries in a broadly Stokerish style (and a beautiful Irish accent, no less!) as he brought it up to date. But what ties it specifically to Nosferatu (1922) is the visual style - partly the set and props, but above all Count Orlok himself. This is in spite of the fact that we never actually see him. Rather, the story is driven by his terrible presence down below in the hold, and after the captain of the ship finally climbs down to investigate what is there, and we hear a scream and see the slap of a single bloody hand on the (translucent) cabin door, he begins to take on the mannerisms and clothing of the count. Even then, it's slightly too simple to say that he becomes possessed by Orlok's evil. There is something much more complex going on about the effects of fear and isolation on the human mind. But his hands increasingly become Orlok's clawed hands, and he abandons the long duster-coat he had been wearing to reveal that Orlok's buttoned jacket had been there all along, just underneath.

This is a perfectly solid set-up, and there are plenty of things about the play I enjoyed. I particularly liked the lady who sat throughout the performance on one side of the stage with a cello and a microphone, providing siren-like singing and eerie music when required. There was also some clever trickery which allowed ship-mates who had just died to be discovered already wrapped up inside tarpaulin body-bags that had been lying on the side of the stage since the story began. But fundamentally, this was the kind of play in which people move around in slow-motion through a series of mannered poses, and one character will say something portentous and rather meaningless like "time is an ocean", after which the other characters pick up and echo the same refrain: "time..." "time is an ocean". I'm afraid I am instantly turned off by that. It is just too difficult to pull it off without sounding like a parody of utterly pretentious avant-garde theatre. In this case, they also made it worse by frequently shifting into song as well - and not always very melodically, or even entirely in tune.

So although I really liked the idea of the absent-yet-present Count, driving everyone mad without ever needing to appear in person, in the end this play was just trying rather too hard for my taste. I don't actually regret the evening spent watching it, but I won't be rushing to see another play by this theatre company again.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Oct. 26th, 2015 09:07 pm (UTC)
I thought Count Orlok did appear on the top of the ship at one point with his horrible extra long fingers...couldn't see his face though. I espeically liked the face that appeared in the door, the blood that appeared to drip down the cabin doors and his shadow or rather Orlok's shadow flitting across the stage.

I didn't care much for the superstitious man's character and am still somewhat confused as to how fervent religious man (who was carrying a cross btw and not a crucifix as it was referred to)was persuaded by superstitious man to kill the captain...was it something to do with his dead sister in the basement?
strange_complex
Oct. 26th, 2015 09:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, he might have done - or it might have been a fevered vision of the captain's imagination. I wasn't sure by that stage! Good point about the drips of blood, too. I had forgotten them.

As for the superstitious and religious ship-mates, I think they just weren't that well characterised, basically. That is the problem with this kind of avant-garde theatre, for me - it goes so heavy on the symbols and motifs that it loses sight of the basic human psychology which really underpins a successful story.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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