A review of Dracula “Blood is Life”

Dracula “Blood is Life”, playing at Resorts World Theatre from 26 October to 13 November, is a suspenseful play with gorgeous set design and good pacing. I caught the show during its gala premiere on 30 October.

Based on the stage adaptation by U.S. playwright Steven Dietz, the show is pretty true to the original source–the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker which was published close to 200 years ago.

However, despite the popularity of the character Dracula, not many know the plot in the novel–even Narelle Kheng who plays Lucy admits that she’s not familiar with Count Dracula.

The plot

Here’s a quick run through of the plot. This stage adaptation seems to focus mostly on the female characters– Mina Murray (Elena Valentine) and Lucy Westenra (Narelle Kheng). We learn that Mina’s fiancé Jonathan Harker is overseas on business to Transylvania.

Lucy reveals that she has received three marriage proposals and accepted one. One of the rejected suitors, Dr John Seward, still visits Lucy. He runs an insane asylum nearby.

Lucy feels terrible for rejecting John's marriage proposal.
Lucy feels terrible for rejecting John’s marriage proposal.

Lucy starts to sleep walk and falls ill under mysterious circumstances. Seward urges his mentor Professor Abraham Van Helsing to visit London. Van Helsing diagnoses Lucy as being infected with vampirism.

For brief glimpses, we see Count Dracula arriving in London and infiltrating Lucy’s house.

Mina receives news that her fiancé Jonathan Harker is in Budapest. She goes to bring him back home. He claims to have gone mad from being in Count Dracula’s castle.

Eventually Lucy dies from loss of blood. Dracula had turned her into a vampire. To prevent her from killing innocent people, the three men–Seward, Harker and Van Helsing–have to put a stake into her heart and decapitate her.

Mina also falls victim to Count Dracula and was even forced to drink his blood which, luckily, gave her access to the vampire’s mind. The group went on a hunt back to Transylvania to kill the Count, eventually succeeding.

Good, suspenseful pacing with strong acting from leads

Even for one who knows the story, I felt that the play uses suspense well and kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what’s going to happen next.

Narelle Kheng as Lucy.
Narelle Kheng as Lucy.

What I was most interested in finding out is how Narelle Kheng’s first stage performance fared. She plays the role of the unfortunate Lucy who’s the victim of Dracula. Her role requires her to play an innocent and vulnerable character in the beginning, and a temptress after she is turned into a vampire.

She did both roles well and managed to portray Lucy as a sympathetic character instead of the flirty airhead in other adaptations. She puts on a British accent to fit in with the rest of the cast but it’s nothing too jarring.

That said, I felt that the role of Lucy was magnified in this adaptation. I wonder if the decision is to pander to the local audience–the show poster does highlight Narelle unabashedly. But by giving weight to this character, it justifies why the rest of the cast are so adamant about hunting down Count Dracula.

Props goes to Elena Valentine who acts as Mina. She plays the strong character well. Mina drives the story by piecing together Dracula’s whereabouts by having access to Jonathan’s shorthand diary and later access to Dracula’s mind. She plays a pivotal role at the end, in ending Dracula’s threat.

Keith Lee Castle as Dracula.

For a show called Dracula “Blood is Life”, the titular character doesn’t have too much stage time. Keith Lee Castle’s portrayal of the young (and well-fed) Count in London is charming. We also see him in Transylvania.

Dracula in Transylvania.
Dracula in Transylvania.

Great set design

One of the sets for Dracula--Lucy's room.
One of the sets for Dracula–Lucy’s room.

One of the difficulties of staging at Resorts World Theatre is the size of the stage. I’ve sit in many shows where the stage felt too big and the scenes too empty.

Dracula “Blood is Life” manages to sidestep this problem with its set designs. Tall constructions are pulled on and off stage by the side characters to represent different buildings.

At this viewing though, one of the buildings was pulled too far in, blocking half the stage for those sitting at the side. It was eventually noticed and fixed, but this is certainly something to improve on as it mars the viewers experience.

With the set, the actors are able to portray two different locations at once, for example we see Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s castle while Mina and Van Helsing reads from his diary. This effect is great for flashbacks, a technique used heavily in this adaptation.

One disadvantage of sitting at the side of the theatre was not being able to catch the full projection on stage. These were mostly close-ups of characters or of blood feeding. While you would not lose out on the plot, for those who want the complete experience, try to get seats in the middle rows.

The moon projected onto the screens in the theatre.
The moon projected onto the screens in the theatre.

Some little niggles

Mina and Lucy by the windows.
Mina and Lucy by the windows.

The music was great. It was haunting and moody, perfect for the evil that the show was about. The sound effects though, were a little disjointing. There were too much screeching and bangs. While these were used to shock the audiences at selected moments, they were a little too loud, bordering on uncomfortable. They detract from the mood set by the music.

The character of Renfield–the mad man in the asylum who becomes a servant of Dracula–was a little underdeveloped in this adaptation. It felt like it could be merged with a lesser character.

That said, these are minor gripes. Dracula “Blood is Life” hits all the rights spot for a perfect evening of spine-tingling stage play. You don’t need to know the story to enjoy this performance, but having read the book will definitely up the pleasure, as you’ll be able to follow the characters’ motivations better.

Strong acting, especially from the female leads, great set designs and a well-paced story all make for a great 2-hour break from modern realities, as you take a step back into the world of Gothic horrors that is Dracula.

But please, leave the kids at home–it’s NC16.

(Right) Narelle Kheng as Lucy in Dracula.
(Right) Narelle Kheng as Lucy in Dracula.

Dracula: Blood is Life plays at Resorts World Theatre from 26 October to 13 November. Tickets start from $36. Get them at SISTIC.

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