Review: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

350x350.fitandcropIt’s been a while since I’ve done a review of anything here, but I wanted to spread the word about this production, in the hope that it might spur some of you into going to see it.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are a company that have been producing live versions of 40s and 50s style radio broadcasts – complete with traditional sound effects produced on stage – since 2008. They’ve come together with Colchester’s Mercury Theatre to produce a version of Dracula that’s a fantastic piece of stage comedy.

We’re invited in as the studio audience to watch a BBC radio production of Dracula. The company’s lead performer, Mr Starkey (perhaps better known to my readers as Doctor Who‘s Strax) helps set the scene for us. Some of the regular repertory company’s finest performers will be presenting us with a dramatic presentation of Bran Stoker’s Dracula, and to add some verisimilitude to the performance a real-life Romanian aristocrat, Count Alucard, will be playing the part of Dracula. Meanwhile, outside the studio, Britain is about to be battered by violent storms accompanied by thunder and lightning, and a number of mysterious deaths have been occurring in the vicinity of Broadcasting House…

What follows is two stories in one: the adaptation of Dracula being performed with all the plum tones and ham acting one expects from early radio drama; and the events going on inside the studio as members of the company renew old feuds and start new flirtations, cues are missed, sound effects are generated, and Count Alucard’s behaviour becomes increasingly harder to explain as method acting.

The whole thing comes together to produce a wonderfully funny performance and the cast are all superb in their roles, bringing some perfect comic timing (including some wonderfully comedic pauses in the delivery) and interaction with the audience. My only complaint would be that there are so many different things happening on stage at various times it’s hard to be sure that you’re experiencing everything that’s going on – while your attention is focused on the performers at the main microphone, something else could be going on at the effects table at one side of the stage and with the piano player at the other. It’s all expertly put together, and the escalating level of farce is carefully managed to not overwhelm the story.

I’d definitely recommend going to see this if you can – it’s on at the Mercury until the 15th November (go here to book tickets and find out more) and I don’t know if it will have performances anywhere else afterwards, or if it will just be a little theatrical gem for us in the East to tell you all about.

Hamlet in Macedonian

Last night I went to see Hamlet at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. This was the first presentation from the Mercury’s participation in the interACT international theatre network, produced by the NI Drama Theatre of Skopje in Macedonian with English subtitles.

I could wax lyrical about the performance, but I’ve found this review that echoes many of the same points I’d make, so why duplicate? What I did notice was that the audience was following what was a very powerful performance, laughing at the moments where the director had pulled out moments of absurdity and black humour from the script, notably Hamlet’s meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and a rather amusing twist in the arrival of Fortinbras at the end. I won’t spoil it, just in case you’re going to see it in the couple of days before it ends.

One thing I did notice was that a lot of the international dimension to the setting was kept in, setting Elsinore as a place surrounded by war, and providing an explanation for some of the industrial bleakness of the stage. Claudius is presented here as a sadistic tyrant, chairing a drab politburo high above the ground and it’s hard not to wonder how much the last two decades (and more) of Balkan history influences their perception of Hamlet.

It’s easy to sneer at the idea of a production like this, and I’m quite sure some people saw that the Mercury was presenting this, made up a theory that they’d be following it with the Merry One Legged Lesbians Of Windsor and then ranted about the public sector gravy train or something similar. But this isn’t just some randomly chosen attempt at obscurity and audience alienation, but part of a strategy to show how theatre can help build new relationships across Europe and beyond. Because of this staging in Hamlet – and the exchange tour of Stockholm to Macedonia and Bulgaria later this month – Colchester’s profile as a cultural centre is being raised, and it may provide a springboard for further links in heritage, tourism and trade that could benefit all of us.