31 Days of Hallowe’en 2017, Day 4: Jane Eyre [The National Theatre]

jane eyre national theatre 2017

source: nationaltheatre.org.uk

This may be a bit of a cheat, but Jane Eyre‘s source material famously has both subtle and overt gothic and horror elements, so I think it counts.

Having never been to the Royal National Theatre (on Southbank, a mini city in its own right and which is fast-becoming one of my favourite places in the Big Smoke), I was unprepared for how clean, comfortable, expansive and organised it ended up being.

The company’s production is its second after a world tour. Director Sally Cookson makes inventive use of the set’s minimalist, multi-level Escher contraption of platforms and ladders, flanked by huge billowing curtains bathed in scene-appropriate light. The book’s famous Red Room scene, in which young Jane is imprisoned by her douchebag Aunt Reed after a fight with her cousin, feels immersively claustrophobic.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 18: Dracula (Teabreak Theatre, Sutton House)


Friend: “Anyone fancy seeing a production of Dracula in a Tudor mansion?”


Sutton House. Source: NationalTrust.org

Sutton House. Source: NationalTrust.org

This past Tuesday, Teabreak Theatre took over the suitably spooky Sutton House in Hackney, East London, for their immersive production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Upon arrival, we were asked to fill out a form with our names and addresses, greatest fear, blood type, and a routine disclaimer absolving the House of any harm that might befall us. Standard stuff. You get a moment to get drinks from their polite mixologist genius at the courtyard bar (try ‘Death in the Afternoon’, a ghostly gin and violet-liqueur concoction).

A tour guide brings you upstairs to give you a little bit of history of the house. You can bring your drinks up with you, but a curious sign on the stairs forbids red wine; whether that’s a playful nod to its similarity to blood or a genuine ‘please don’t fuck up our historic furnishings with the stainiest stainer of all booze’, I didn’t think to ask. But then began the Company’s unique interpretation of Stoker’s classic. If you think you know immersive horror, think again. My advice? Don’t try to shut up those annoyingly chatty members of your tour group…

After some shaky opening performances and inevitable, first-night technical issues, the story picks up, the narrative switches gears, and the actors finally start to sink their teeth (sorry) into their roles. And there’s great chemistry among them – moving and bittersweet with Jonathan (Chris Dobson) and Mina (Molly Small), and playfully comedic from the fly-nomming, scene-stealing Renfield (Emily Essery).

The troupe makes creepily effective use of their limited space and props by some inventive bursts of sound misdirection. In an old house whose every floorboard has its own creak, you’ve basically got a Hallowe’en sound-effects version of the giant keyboard from Big.

It’s important to know that, while most of the scenes take place in a large reception room, there is some walking around across rooms and up and down stairs, so comfortable shoes are recommended. It can get chilly, so keep your coat on. Oh, and wear a thick scarf around your neck. No reason.




31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 21: The Woman in Black (Fortune Theatre)


I felt it proper that my first West End theatre experience, since moving to London, ought to be a spooky experience. Playing exclusively at the Fortune Theatre since 1989, The Woman in Black seemed like an apt choice.

Anyone who’s seen the 2012 film or read Susan Hill‘s 1983 book won’t have been spoiled – it’s nothing like either. The play is surprisingly minimal – stripped bare, with a only a wicker chest, two wooden chairs and two actors on stage. Everything else is suggested through crisp audio cues, or conjured up through the actors’ response to them (such as Spider the dog). Heed that before you go, in case you’d rather have more elaborate sets and multiple actors.

The story is set up as a play within a play. Our story’s protagonist, Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) has written a play to recount his chilling experiences with the titular Woman in Black. In some of the (IRL) play’s most humorous moments, Arthur has embarrassing trouble playing the part of himself, and ends up deferring to an actor (Matt Connor) to take over. It’s a clever bit of levity before the spooks start coming in.

And they literally do. After we’d been advised not to take any aisle seats, I spent the odd minute doing some sporadic fake-outs towards the stalls doors, trying to unsettle my theatremate. I’m happy to say it worked at least once. Because the theatre is so small, your experience is already more immersive than if you’d taken your West End experience elsewhere; so nobody expected to have ghouls appearing in the aisle. It was rather sweet.

But, for me, not as scary as everyone had been losing their shit over. It’s expertly-acted and dizzyingly-paced, and sound production is second to none. It’s just not as frightening as the consensus had made out, and the Woman in Black herself is not so much terrifying as she is tragic.

Also: apologies. If you were there Friday, 21 October 2016, I am the asshole that coughed in the theatre. I tried to hold it in but, just like stifling a laugh that shouldn’t be laughed, it just made it worse. The throat-fracturing red wine is to blame.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 27: Dracula’s Guest


source: hauntedhappenings.org

Today I played the tourist – wandered around town in makeup (an adaptation of this and with this costume), ate gross carnival food, took a decent spooky tour on the Salem Trolley and took a ton of photos of people in costume (it was so busy in the afternoon, but the crowds thinned out quickly as the sun disappeared). Earlier on in the day, I took in a 45-minute play at the Salem Theatre Company. The show was Dracula’s Guest, and for $15, I was expecting good quality (especially as I had just missed on on a free ticket given by another patron by minutes).

The show, in its original literary form, was written by Bram Stoker himself, but is considered to be a rejected draft of Dracula‘s first chapter. This particular play adaption names the protagonist (the “Englishman”) as Jonathan Harker, even though his name is not revealed in the book, but that’s not where the differences end: in fact, once Harker reaches Dracula’s castle, the play seems to veer off to pick up the entire plot of the actual, final, Dracula book (complete with Dracula yelling, “Get back!” to the succubi, and the book’s ending), so I’m not quite sure if we’re all really supposed to be calling this play “Dracula’s Guest”.

source: youtube.com

Regardless of this, for such a teensy tiny theatre (in budget and staff as well as size – its 100-odd capacity stage area is separated from the hallway/lobby/entrance by a curtain), they put on a lively and engaging performance, widely side-stepping the “stilted period acting/dialogue” issues faced by monologue actors in performances in The House of the Seven Gables or Witch House. There are some wavered line deliveries here and there, but performances are crisp; Harker (Conor Burke) is capable enough, able to sympathetically portray Harker’s growing confusion and descent into near-madness. Dann Anthony Murno (Dracula) cuts a menacing yet charismatic figure on stage, and wouldn’t look out of place in a more serious Hammer Horror flick. Greg Mancusi-Ungaro’s resourceful lighting compliments and makes good use of highlighting the actors, and the Fogles (John and Jean) provide some decent set design and costumes to set the mood (particularly in the absence of almost any props).

So while this isn’t technically Dracula’s Guest, it’s well-acted enough that I can excuse that. The monologues are evenly spaced in between actual back-and-forth dialogue; direction/blocking, sound effects and items on a projection screen (e.g. the castle skyline) keeps the show moving quickly, despite its minimalist design. The show runs nightly until October 31.