This All Hallows' Eve, Dracula trod the boards in a bold and minimalist reworking of Bram Stoker's gothic novel: Grzegorz Jarzyna's Nosferatu at the Barbican.
Despite existing in folklore and literature for 250 years, it was Bram Stoker who cemented our notion of the cape-wearing vampiric aristocrat with a taste for young ladies' necks. Brought to the London stage by Polish theatres TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy, writer and director Jarzyna uses the monster myth to explore our bewilderment of science, fear of death and the vampire lurking within us all.
Noseratu sees the familiar story of Lucy (Sandra Korzeniak) and Mina (Katarzyna Warnke) surrounded by a band of men, including Van Helsing (Jan Frycz), fighting off Nosferatu as he preys on the young women.
In a modern setting, Jarzyna's stage adaptation shows dark and self-centred characters that contrast with Bram Stoker's original clear divide between good and bad. Instead of the light and shade of Dracula and his nemeses, we are given a grey hue of morals; Mina shows little regard for her close friend as she pursues a heated affair with Lucy's fiancé and Van Helsing chloroforms Mina in a bizarre interrogation scene.
Memorable moments come from Sandra Korzeniak as the undead Lucy, performing a stalking dance of death as she moves in for the kill on her former photographer friend Quincey. When explaining her joy at being a vampire, an impressive screen lightshow appears, proving effective with the copious amounts of spooky smoke pumped on stage.
Technical difficulties with unwanted noise on the actors' microphones and a sluggish speed on the display of English subtitles made the production less accessible that it might have been.
Aesthetically, Nosferatu is pleasing on the eye and ear: minimalist set design reminiscent of German Expressionist cinema, mood-evoking lighting and a score of sound effects with such presence it deserves a credit on the cast list.
Despite some dramatic moments, Jarzyna's Nosferatu lacks the overall chill that Bram Stoker evoked.
Lucy's terrible demise is part of the novel's horror - seeing the innocent, sweet, buoyant young woman turn into a shell of herself, growing pale and weak, despite multiple transfusions. Jarzyna gives us none of this, instead we are immediately introduced to a morose Lucy - her transition from human to vampire takes the form of mournful pacing and writhing on stage. As a vampire she appears more animated than when in life.
In an interview with the Polish weekly news magazine Przekrój, Jarzyna explains the rhythm of his production: "I wanted to achieve an effect of 'retardation', a slow-down, of stretching time to show moments when nothing really happens."
This lumbering approach feels suited to the gothic genre of suspense and Nosferatu certainly does choose to go at its own pace, however, not always succeeding in taking the audience with it.
This latest offering of vampire theatrics may not meet everyone's expectations of fang-toothed horror, but as a genre-defining piece of literature, Bram Stoker's Dracula deserves to be reimagined over and over.
Nosferatu is running at the Barbican, London, 31 Oct 2012 - 3 Nov 2012.
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Written by: Matthew Tucker
Nosferatu, Barbican, London.
2 / 5 stars