The Citizens' autumn programme perhaps betrays a certain consciousness of the theatre's straitened financial circumstances, as it goes for familiar names if not works guaranteed to do business: Edward Albee's neglected 1974 play Seascape, the not-exactly-cheery Long Day's Journey Into Night, and a new adaptation of Dracula whose preview performance fell on Hallowe'en.
Seascape, in the Stalls Studio, is essentially a diversion for intellectuals of the therapied classes, in which ageing couple Nancy and Charlie reflect both on their own past and the human condition in general, partly driven by the sudden arrival on an otherwise deserted beach of Leslie and Sarah, who – to allow Albee to take a perspective similar to that of the "Martian" poets – are large, green, ocean-dwelling but conveniently articulate lizards. A certain amount of not especially rigorous armchair (or rather beach blanket) anthropology ensues, and we end moderately close to our starting point, but having been reassured of our essential goodness of spirit. Ellen Sheean's Nancy prattles on intelligently if inconsequentially, and Robert David MacDonald directs and plays Charlie with the same cool reservation.
Stewart Laing has decided to set his Circle Studio production of Long Day's Journey in the present; this results in niggling if forgivable anachronisms (including the transformation of the housemaid Cathleen into a probably illegal Mexican), but also means that Laurance Rudic's declined paterfamilias James Tyrone seems altogether too unprepossessing to fit the character's shoes, looking less like a former stage idol than someone who might have been in the cast of Hill Street Blues a while ago. If anything, he also seems a little younger than Mary as played by Pauline Moran, where the opposite should be the case. The acting, however, is really rather fine; Tyrone is not so much a domestic tyrant as a monster of habit, and Moran invests Mary's drug-induced irrationality and cold-turkey paranoia with a grindingly impressive plausibility. Pascal Langdale's consumptive Edmund suffers more or less passively in the middle of his parents' travails, unrelieved by a journeyman portrayal of elder brother Jamie from Owen Gorman.
Jon Pope is entirely responsible for the main house Dracula, having adapted and designed as well as directed it, yet he has spread the load as broadly as possible. He, too, has set the story in a kind of present day, albeit a gloomy, doomy present day such as one would find in an early David Cronenberg movie; however, as well as blending original material with Bram Stoker's story, Pope inserts bits and pieces from the film versions of Coppola, Murnau and Herzog, and even (at one point) a eulogy to the Nosferatu as local dictator which may well have been lifted verbatim from a piece of rhetoric in praise of Hitler, Ceausescu or the like. The script is nothing if not eclectic.
In fact, it is precious little other than eclectic: engaging, comprehensible and watchable without laughing are, in its various phases, some of the many things this show is not. Von [sic] Helsing (Bill McGuirk) is little more than a cipher who prompts Jonathan and Lucy [sic again] Harker (Craig Scarborough and Lorna McDevitt) as they recount their fragments of the tale. James Duke's Renfield is a macabre comedy turn, with Stephen Scott's Dr Seward scarcely far behind him. As the Nosferatu, Stuart Bowman spits like a mongoose whenever riled but is generally more like a post-Gothic bootboy than a master of the undead. Pope spends most of the time diligently eradicating any trace of romantic allure from Dracula, making Lucy's climactic encounter with him absurd; time and again his Cronenbergian efforts to concentrate upon the dark imbalance within men's souls are at best fumbled, at worst bludgeoned into risibility. The best of the action in the Citz this month is in the studios.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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