Tucked away in the corner of Homerton High Street, Sutton House stands silent and solemn. As we approach the building, the sun flings its final farewell over the horizon and the shadows in the house’s hallways loom and lengthen. Just in time for Halloween, Tea Break Theatre’s DRACULA roosts like a brooding winged creature in the upper rooms of the house and takes us on a tour of the family history. That is until a dark presence emerges, plunging the evening’s schedule into chaos and dragging the unassuming guests into the murky depths of the past.
The audience is ushered from the courtyard upstairs into the Great Chamber and our tour guide Elizabeth begins talking us through the history of the family who first owned the house in the late 1500s. After a few minutes, she becomes distracted and loses her train of thought while various members of the group grow agitated and ill-tempered. We quickly learn that these people have been drawn to this house by the unseen master of the house for reasons unknown. Transported back in time, they are morphed into the legendary characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Elizabeth, now revealed as Renfield, is attended by Dr Jane Seward while Jonathan and Mina Harker pace anxiously as Lucy Westenra fades into ill-health. Lucy’s betrothed, Arthur Holmwood, confers with Abraham Van Helsing as she rapidly and mysteriously loses blood. All the while, the lingering presence of ‘the Master’ lurks around the corner, just out of sight.
This rendition of one of classic literature’s most revered tales is innovative and well executed. The location and the promenade style really make us feel as though we are part of the story. While some of the early scenes are a touch too rehearsed to maintain the illusion of reality, Katharine Armitage’s adapted script beautifully balances original dialogue with some of Stoker’s more memorable quotes. The delicate twist in this version of Dracula’s plot works very well for an audience seeking some thrills for Halloween and the decision to have a female Dr Seward puts a refreshing spin on the otherwise familiar characters. As an ensemble, the cast works well together. Emily Essery, as tour guide Elizabeth and then asylum resident Renfield, brings fantastic energy and authority to the piece. Her distracted and subtly threatening behaviour is expertly carried out and increases the unease among the audience members. In contrast, Bonny Davis’ Dr Seward is fantastically grounded and level headed and her understated nuances help maintain our suspended belief. Unfortunately, those hoping to catch a glimpse of the most venerated of vampires will be disappointed. Throughout the piece, audience members crane their necks to see Count Dracula but to no avail.
All in all, DRACULA works on many levels. It is spooky, fun and never allows the audience’s attention to slip. Some dimmer lighting and access to more of the house would elevate this piece even more as it would increase our shared sense of adventure and exclusivity of the moment. However, it is definitely enjoyable and the immersive experience helps keep the invisible threat of the Count ever present. A good evening out for Halloween – just don’t forget your garlic!
Reviewed by Alex Foott
DRACULA plays at Sutton House, Homerton until 31 October 2016