Mayfest 2018- A Festival Round Uo

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After a year away Mayfest 2018 brought a new batch of creative and critical discourse; dance, theatre, performance art and everything else in between; to Bristol with its latest festival, the 15th incarnation since its launch in 2003. It was a quieter festival for myself personally, only 6 shows seen in a little over 10 days of activity, so inevitably it felt like I missed some of the most buzz worthy shows of this festival. In particular Caroline William’s video installation cum performance piece Now Is The Time To Say Nothing at the Arnolfini drew breathless praise from seemingly everyone who saw it, Verity Standen’s new choral piece Undersong enchanted people in the three distinct venues of Bristol Cathedral, St Georges and the Barton Hill Settlement, while The Killers saw Richard Allen place a binaural sound piece into the heart of a café in Weston Super Mare. All these pieces created some of the biggest conversations of the festival and I was sad to miss them.

If this now bi-annual festival may have been missing some of the independent scenes marquee names that it has hosted in recent years, the likes of Dead Centre, Tim Crouch and Bryony Kimming’s, it did manage to bring Ridiculusmus to Bristol to present all three parts of its mental health trilogy. Complicated Grief, the third and newest part, still feels a little undernourished, its good ideas and intentions being blurred with a performance style that takes slow to its extremes. It may be making a point about the final slow waltz to the reaper, but for every funny moment; an accidental fart being released, the taking of the wrong days pills, speakers being employed to try to shake someone out of their grief; it takes an age to articulate its points. In an age of oversaturation, however much I tried to concentrate, boredom took hold long before the end of this 75-minute work.

Concentration was also at the heart of Contact Gonzo vs Bristol for audience and performer alike. A three-part symphony of balance, slaps, tumbles and trust at St Jacob’s Swimming Baths, its first symphony takes on the You Tube challenge of ‘the floor is lava’, as the seven strong cast made their way from fire escape to the centre of the room, ensuring their bodies and then musical instruments never hit the floor. Its stately beginnings soon made way to physical force. Two bodies hit into each other, neither refuses to budge, they collide again with greater force. Soon a water bottle is used in battle, flung to the heavens and crashing down hard, almost as hard as the slaps that are administered liberally from performer to performer. From chaos to meditative, its final third saw its audience co-opted into our own act of concentration, as chests and foreheads, elbows and knees were used to balance pieces of twigs until the space resembled a small forest. Team building turned into performance, it’s a work that defies easy analysis but a week later its energy and its conflict have stuck with me.

I’ve very rarely felt more genuine conflict in a theatre than in Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas brilliantly gruelling Palmyra. A hammer has been entrusted to an audience member and both performers are pleading with her to give them the hammer. Violence is potentially only a decision away; any decision feels like it can only lead to bleakness. As the minutes tick down the pressure cooker heats up. We, the audience, feel complicit. This is a worthwhile sequel to the equally brilliant EuroHouse, its title referencing the city that has changed sides a number of times over the course of the war, here the audience like the inhabitants of the city find their allegiances turn over and over again from tall, handsome, softly spoken Bertrand to Nasi’s smaller, bearded, more beaten down frame. Crockery is smashed, blows rained down on each man, playground squabbling turns nasty. It’s a piece about how relationships can turn sour, friendships turning to violence in little more than a song by Ella Fitzgerald. By the end debris is scattered everywhere, the Arnolfini a warzone. Yet it ends on hope. As Voutsas begins sweeping up the stage, two audience members (plants?) offer to help him clear it away. The three work in tandem to clear the space. It’s an image that offers hope. It’s a work that lasts but an hour but will be thought about, dissected and analysed for many more.

Annie Siddon’s latest autobiographical piece How (Not) To Live In Suburbia tackles the loneliness of suburban life. Trapped in Twickenham, ‘home of English rugby,’ her zone 5 location to New Cross where her musician lover ups and leaves, seems as impossible to navigate as the Sergeyevna’s sisters determination to hit Moscow. An agent demanding a follow up to her first hit, the prohibitive cost of childcare, the falling apart of a marriage, it all leads to her feeling trapped and being visited by the walrus of loneliness who we get to see in Richard DeDomenici’s witty video work. In truth it may offer too much film to stage time, mainly because Siddon’s is such an expert story teller that every time she is off the stage she is missed. The work has similarities to another fringe hit, Fleabag so it’s not surprising to hear the work has been gobbled up by hungry tv executive and will be adapted in the coming months. Will Siddon’s follow the same path as Phoebe Waller Bridge and be appearing in a Marvel tentpole before we know it?

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My favourite two shows of Mayfest 2018 had music at their heart. Off Broadway hit Old Stock A Refugee Love Story took up residence at Bristol Old Vic and its enchanting hybrid of folk -kletzmer – music theatre left me enchanted. It’s song cycle tells the story of two refugees who meet off the boat in Halifax Nova Scotia and their subsequent journey through marriage, family and their assimilation into Canandian life. The MC Ben Caplan is frankly extraordinary, coiffured up and with a voice that reminds one concurrently of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, his sardonic delivery always leaves it in the balance how this story will end. It balances the toughness of the lives these two encountered with something honestly romantic. There are no Disney love stories here but something equally as enriching emerges. Tender and tough, lyrical and cruel, it’s a beautiful thing that left me stirred.

Mayfest is great at allowing us to discover hybrid’s and nothing achieved that balance than the pure crowd pleasing, raucous We Are Lightning! A celebration and a defence of live music venues the Trinity Centre brought together music from across the spectrum of Bristol, a teenage band making their first steps, a 30 strong community choir, a brass band, heavy metal guitarists, all combine to make the most joyful hour I saw at this festival. Music matters in all its forms and has the potential to change lives, from the delicate male tenor taking a solo line in the choir to the guitar riffing leather jacketed student, poised and cool as her bands frontwomen. Joseph O’Farrell’s and Sam Halmarack’s piece raises the roof off the Trinity as come its climax as all the musicians join together for one last defiant howl. It’s what Mayfest does best, bringing forms and artists together to interrogate and discover and find new ways of making art. I already am counting down the days until 2020.

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Kiss Me- Bristol Old Vic Directors Cuts at Wardrobe Theatre ☆☆☆☆

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A woman lies on a single bed, reading; the lights fade; the sound of the trenches pound through the speakers; and the women slowly arches her back, sensuous and aching. It’s a bravura start to Richard Bean’s two-hander play Kiss Me, cleverly summing up the pieces main themes of loss and desire in an aural/visual shorthand. It rather sums up the strengths of Katharine Farmer’s production, whip smart and guided by a steady hand allowing its hold gradually tightens. It’s a small piece of work in many ways; keeping its focus tight on its two protagonists and its ideas confined to its small bedsit; but is given a supremely sure staging. If a director’s main job is to ensure the work on the page gets the best possible realisation on a stage than you couldn’t ask for better than Farmer provides.

The women who we see arched on the bed is ‘Stephanie’, a First World War widow nervously awaiting her first encounter with ‘Dennis’ a man who has come to her small room for a pre-arranged assignation. Stephanie, alone and already assigned to the shelf in her mid-twenties is ready for a child. Dennis is doing his bit to repopulate a nation decimated at the trenches of Ypres and the Somme. How many children has he created Stephanie queries early on? ‘202 through 711 meetings’ is the answer. These are women whose lives stopped the moment their own men fell on the Western Front. This man potentially their only chance of having a family that war has denied them.

Bean started off as a miniaturist before the mainstream delights of One Man Two Guvnors sent him stratospheric, and before his work as a playwright, he did the rounds on the comedy circuit. His past is at the forefront of this play. His humour keeps the play, whose premise sounds leavening, spritely and sprung. ‘Where’s the weirdest place you’ve had sex?’ ‘Stoke Newington’. It’s the little one liners, the moments of humour between the pair that keeps it motoring. Both have secrets, aliases, things locked up inside. Stephanie never even had time to discover if she loved her husband, two innocents with a two-week honeymoon in dank, damp Wales, a little unsatisfactory ‘wham bam thank you mam’ and then a lifetime of being a widow. Dennis, a quintessential English gent in bowler and cut-glass vowels, is ashamed that he never went to the Front, never fought, his family’s business keeping him wealthy and safe.

These two souls, both broken and lost, form an attachment, the business arrangement soon making way, the mechanical dissection of what must occur ‘no kissing’, soon makes way for passionate clinches and talks of the future. Bean keeps one final rug pull behind though, one that hits hard when it arrives. Farmer layers it up, keeping the action brisk (it runs at a very commendable 60 minutes) and allowing the two to escape their reserve and find something more. Its last moments, as backs stiffen and upper lips applied are painfully realised.

Stephanie Booth and George Readshaw chart the rise and fall of this relationship beautifully. Booth tumbles out words as if to stop and contemplate will kill her, a woman with plenty to say and no one to say it to. War has turned her modern, hardened and open in her desires. She drives a truck. She makes jokes about fucking. The demure Catholic schoolgirl pre-war has evolved into the kind of women we see today. Booth allows us to see both sides of this women, the blowsy exterior hiding the women lost beneath. Readshaw’s Dennis meanwhile uses class as his disguise. His accent and manners suggest breeding but his eyes give nothing away. His motives are never fully clear, is he genuinely in love with this woman or is it all an extended seduction technique. What motivates a man to bed 700 women, patriotism or sex addiction. Bean never answers. It should cause debate in the bar after.

The works restraint is quintessentially British, repressed emotions bubbling to the surface but never being released. Farmer and her cast help release its cumulative power. It ends up bruising. A fascinating play with Britain on a cusp of change is pitched beautifully. Recommended.

Kiss Me plays at Wardrobe Theatre until 19 May

Four Play- BOVTS Directors Cuts at Wardrobe Theatre ☆☆☆☆

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Rafe and Pete have been together since university, before either was officially out and have spent the preceding seven and a half years together. It’s time for a change. It’s time to ask their friend Michael a question. For a night (or two?) which will change everything. Jake Brunger’s 2016 debut play (he has a sideline contributing books for musicals such as Adrian Mole at the Menier) is a laugh a minute exploration of modern relationships, monogamy, friendships and sexual mores in the era of Grindr. Director Liam Blain’s production pitches the humour front and centre, gags dropping with regular fizz, it’s probably the funniest play about millennials I’ve seen since Fleabag hit the stage.

Brunger’s writing is scalpel sharp on relationships, gay or straight, one that will surely get any couple in the middle stretch itch questioning all their assumptions about the solid foundation of their relationships. A simple question soon spirals off into paranoia, recrimination and heart break.  Brunger structures his play in traditional sitcom style, scenes build and tensions ratchet until the thermostat with increasing inevitably explodes.

It’s a safer play than its synopsis and early scenes suggests, traditionally styled and with a surprisingly conservative ending. For anyone who has seen a rom-com you can guess where it is all going. Yet this may be the intention. For Brunger has written a mainstream play about gay men and their relationships, without any of the coded messages (The Deep Blue Sea) recriminations (Boys From The Band) bruising punishment (Bent) or tragic illness (Angels In America) that so much of the gay canon incorporate in their USP’s. Four Plays uniqueness to those titles, is in how little the characters sexuality defines them or goes about actioning their motivations.

Blain’s production is played fast and clean on Stavri Papadopoulou’s clever minimalist set that fills in for homes, bars and parks and is ably supported by a quartet of strong performances from the graduating class from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. As Rafe and Pete, Marco Young and Max Dinnen bring out the two sides to the couple with a proposition to make. Young pitches nervously, words cascading out of him in torrents as he eventually stumbles to his offer. Dinnen is slyer, his tongue suggestively rolling around his lips as he seizes up his options, seven years of monogamy making him hungry for a poke. As Michael first year FDA actor Cudjoe Asare nobly steps into the breach at short notice and gives his gym Adonis a bewildered bemused expression, as the dawning realisation of what his friends are asking of him becomes clear.

Yet the standout is James Schofield’s Andrew, partner to Michael, uni chum to Rafe and Pete and the fourth wheel in this illicit equation. Schofield was a strong centre in How to Disappear Completely and provides something similar here. A role with less stage time than the other three begins to feel its main protagonist. Schofield is blisteringly good as the partner unable to believe his luck in snaring ‘a 10 to his 6’ and holding onto this fortune with a deliberately blind eye. The pain and anger builds until it explodes out of him in the focal dinner party scene where secrets are revealed and decisions made. Its to Blain and Bruger’s credit that the laughter that has rocked the Wardrobe Theatre quietens down as its audience begin to be gripped by its machinations. Get them laughing, get them listening, get them feeling, the scripture for all good theatre. By the end it is doing all three. Four Play is a little gem.

Four Play plays at the Wardrobe Theatre until 12 May as part of BOVTS Directors Cuts season.

Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons- Directors Cuts at Wardrobe Theatre ☆☆☆

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Words. They come cascading out of us, on average 123,205,750 words during a lifetime. They help define us; the gift of the gab finds us jobs and a way with words helps find a way into beds. Without them, who are we? In Sam Steiner’s clever work, written, debuted and becoming toast of the town while still a student at Warwick University, a limit is placed on how many words a day can be used. No more than 140 a day can be uttered. What does this do for a couple who are still getting to know each other? Can a relationship survive when one of the sole means of communication is cut off?

On a second viewings of Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons it reveals itself to be a scalpel sharp and highly entertaining hour of theatre, though one whose issues rise further to the surface. In its favour; the issues it tackles (surveillance states, battle of the sexes in the workplace and the importance of language in a modern culture that is gradually eroding it) feel somehow even more essential now than they did a couple of years ago. The central relationship between trainee lawyer Bernadette and musician Oliver feels honest and true, tentative first steps, turning into blazing rows, sweet make ups and agonised silences reveal guilty secrets. Ok, so it sometimes appears quirky for its own sake, as student work is sometimes wont to do, their initial meeting and early dates at a pet cemetery seem one step too left-field, but its premise is sharp and its sci-fi predictions grounded in just enough truth to feel terrifyingly palpable. You could easily imagine it as an episode of Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror.

Yet once you know where it’s going, its blueprint feels a little shaky. Although running just a little over an hour it doesn’t quite give enough to justify its run time, all Steiner’s ideas are shot by its half and the rest just beats the same point’s home to ever decreasing effect. Its text always fizzes enough not to cause boredom but by its end, it is hard to shake off the soapy relationship drama that has taken over with a climax, that however well-acted does not bruise the heart as it should. If Pirandello cast some characters in search of an author here he would be in need of an ending.

BOVTS graduating director Caroline Lang and her designer Emily Leonard play up the horrific dystopian present more than in the original production. As we encounter a world where the characters find words capped, the stage is lit alone by a couple of naked lightbulbs, pre-bill passing the stage is flooded with light. It’s an effective visual motif, the light stripped from the world as language is removed. At one point Oliver accuses Bernadette of being like an Internet browser, countless tabs open at once, concentration split between sites, but Steiner is aware that this is modern culture, our focus split many ways. Scenes cross cut in a blink and this production, more than the original, ensures clear delineation between the scenes, blissful past making way for terrifying present.

Lang ensures strong performances from her two actors Kate Reid and Alex Wilson. Reid in particular catches Bernadette’s strong work ethic and need to succeed in life, as well as the crushing reality she faces when she realises a bill she never believed would pass comes into effect. Since the last time I saw this work Brexit and Trump has left me and many others in the same wide mouthed shock, this feeling of complete disbelief conveyed of a world changing for the worst seems much more believable than when I saw it in the early days of 2016. Wilson is saddled with the more unlikeable role, the social crusader with the swaggering superiority of an idealist and the one who ultimately causes splinters in the relationship. The text doesn’t exactly paint him as the villain but Reid is so charming and open and true that, in this production at least, Oliver can’t help but come across as a bit of a prick.

Both performances- as would be expected from graduating actors of the school- are technically assured yet don’t have the lived in feel with the text that the original cast from Warwick brought to it. These feel like performances, good ones, but performances nevertheless. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air intro rap, a moment that sees them lose word count in one exhilarating protest is less a showpiece here, taken at a slower lick and with less apocalyptical energy. In the original it was the works defining moment, here it blends more seamlessly into the whole.

Opening the Director Cuts season 2018 it is good to get reacquainted with Lemons again, without doubt the most successful student show of the 21st century. If the production backs up a hunch that it is not quite a modern classic it’s still a highly enjoyable take on a play that shows language is a right that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons plays at the Wardrobe Theatre until 5 May

A View From The Bridge- Tobacco Factory ☆☆☆☆☆

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This is it. The show to proclaim loudly that Tobacco Factory Theatre’s is in safe hands and ready to sail into a golden future under its Artistic director Mike Tweddle. If the Tobacco Factory rep company were solid in Macbeth, the five star work begins here, a tight, intense, bruising and occasionally rollercoaster spiralling take on Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.

Miller’s play invokes the sense of community of Brooklyn’s Red Hook, where dock workers go about their daily hard labours, and this Tobacco Factory production finds its own, drawing a community chorus from a group of non-professionals, aged 22 to 70, many of whom haven’t acted before and have been coached here in weekly classes for the past ten weeks. Five take to the stage per performance, there energy and focus an important part to a climax that feels as inexorably inevitable as Oedipus’ final fall, from the moment that immigrant brothers Marco (Aaron Anthony) and Rudolpho (a terrific blonde-dyed and sensitively hued Joseph Tweedale) enter the house and cause the small Carbone family household to shatter outwards.

Tweddle keeps most of the action confined to a rectangular playing space in the middle of the space, an area in Anisha Fields design just a tad too small to host the heightened feelings that play out there. Eddie begins the play perched on a small old rocking chair, paper in hand, king of his own domain. He is small and wiry, a New York street dweller, as handy with his fists as he is uncomfortable with his feelings. Mark Letheren is superb here, his Eddie a man driven to the edge by feelings he dare not voice, a decent man who loses all sense of who he is. Miller constantly demands his protagonists fight for their name and the associations these give them, from John Proctor’s ‘I have given you my soul, leave me my name’,  to Joe Keller’s ‘A little man makes a mistake and they hang him by his thumbs’, Eddie’s Carbone grapples about what being a man means. He is old school. A grafter. A provider. As he watches his niece grow up and make decisions for herself, independently of himself you can see his nostrils flare. The status quo is broken. His suspicions about Rudolpho; who makes things, sings and cooks question his own sense of masculinity. In Act 2 he forces kisses on both his niece and her beau, the visceral roars of reaction it engendered in a Thursday afternoon matinee showed the play still, some fifty years later, retains its power to shock and provide narrative thrust.

Letheren’s performance is award worthy, as memorable in its way as Mark Strong’s take for Ivo van Hove a few years back. He is ably supported by Katy Stephens as his wife Beatrice, who follows her thrilling take on Lady M, with another women who finds her husband lost to her. This is a more subtle piece of work, her eyes a constant array of worry and fret as she sees everything but refuses to countenance what is occurring directly in front of her. If her Lady Macbeth starts with power which gradually erodes, here her Beatrice gains in power as her family falls apart around her. It proves without doubt that she is one of our finest actors of modern vintage.  Recent Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Laura Waldren presents a different take on Catherine then many, less girlish, more womanly, and clear eyed bright; someone who prides herself on seeing the bigger picture. The moment she questions whether Rudolpho genuinely loves her rather than the American dream is bruising. She and Tweedale create real chemistry between their characters, like the best relationships both light and and sensual. The beginning of the second Act between them is tingly sexy.

For over two hours this Greek tragedy relocated to NY plays in that rectangular front room, coiling tighter and tighter as violence threatens to erupt. Then finally in the closing stages Tweddle releases it. The work hits operatic heights: music that had previously underscored rising to crescendos, lighting flaring, the space around the house now full of the community actors recruited for the project. The final fight is brief and brutal. The final wail a despairing aria.  It is an accomplished piece of directing, leaving it late to reveal much of its hand. For a first calling card in a space that he has now called home for close to two years it couldn’t have gone much better. The bar is set high

A View From The Bridge plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 12 May.

 

Tosca- WNO at Bristol Hippodrome ☆☆☆☆

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Every opera company requires productions of their big hitters to become repertoire staples if they want to ensure a healthy bank balance. Welsh National Opera has done better than most to be able to pull out strong La Boheme’s, Dali inspired Magic Flute’s and classically Oriental Madame Butterfly’s out of the closet every few years and delight audiences anew. The formula by and large is to play straight, solid takes on the tales that tell the narrative cleanly and don’t leave its audience questioning why this Carmen is set on a council estate in Bradford. Michael Blakemore’s production of Tosca plays out with a straight bat, period appropriate, detailed sets and clear delineation of character. He lets Puccini work his magic, each act building in tension and wrapping up on cliff-hangers that make you long for the next act like your latest Netflix binge.

It’s a production that is pleasingly realised then and one that is careful to allow musicianship to take centre stage. Claire Rutter has sung Tosca for opera companies all around the world and her take on the diva is sure and steady. She is effective as the jealous mistress in the first act, spitting out her distaste of her lover Cavaradossi’s painting of another women but takes us on a journey that turns her into a form of avenging angel. Her second act aria ‘Vissi d’arte’ is a moving evocation of a women fearing her God has abandoned her and her third act reconciliation with her tortured lover and then damning realisation that she has been tricked are as movingly acted as vividly sung.

Making his role debut as Scarpia Mark S Doss is deep of voice but is not yet chilling enough as the sadistic chief of police that arrests the painter and then dangles this pawn to try to seduce Tosca. His ‘Va Tosca’ sung over the Te Deum lacked sufficient power to fully send shivers down the spine. His interpretation played up the Inspector as refined gentleman; decked up in his periwig and sipping glasses of wine; and seems less keen to turn him into the sadistic monster that Puccini promises.

Of the trio it’s Gwyn Hughes Jones’ Carvadossi who is the standout, his thrilling tenor ringing out on ‘Vittoria! Vittoria!’ and finding more lyrical tones in his third act showstopper ‘E Lucevan Le Stelle’. His acting is broad brush-stroked but effective, light as a lark in Act 1, bloodily defiant in the second and resigned in the third. Jones, like Rutter, is a veteran in the role and he conveys that in a performance rich and true and one that deserved the ringing cheers he received at the company bow.

Timothy Burke brings out the best of the WNO Orchestra, the strings finding untold depths and the set pieces ringing with absolute clarity. The chorus have rarely sounded better than there work in the first act religious song ‘Te Deum’. Ashley Martin-Davies’ sets conjured an impressively sturdy Sant’Andrea dell Valle and a luxurious home for Scarpia’s devious machinations. Mark Henderson’s lighting came into its own with an impressive third act blood red sundown as the bodies come to rest.

This is a safe but incredibly sturdy version of one of opera’s big hitters. It ensures one would suspect WNO countless revivals in the future. If the musicianship stays this good, few will complain.

Tosca plays another performance at Bristol Hippodrome on the 13 April and then moves to Venue Cymru 18 & 20 April

Dracula- Loco Club ☆☆☆☆

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Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Dracula, currently playing at the Loco Club, a series of tunnels situated under Temple Meads, is not for the faint hearted. A three hour promenade work requiring, complete black outs, a sound design that rumbles and screams and a late blossoming of plenty of claret ensures this is a piece designed for the sturdy in mind. It is also, without question, the best stage version of Bram Stoker’s tale that I have seen.

Confession, I love the novel with a passion others reserve for Tolkien or Potter. I love the films; Christopher Lee’s Hammer version and Gary Oldman’s romantic take in Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic version. Even the TV version in Penny Dreadful got me slathering in anticipation. Yet on stage, so often it fails to raise the hairs on the back of the neck.. The Gothic usually turn camp, Dracula’s bloody cravings as terrifying as Count von Count reciting his numbers in Sesame Street. John Walton’s production, using the full expanse of tunnels, takes the tale seriously. When this Count bares his fangs you feel the bite.

They’re helped by poet Liz Lochhead’s celebrated 1985 adaptation which stays close to the source while finding its own voice. In truth it takes a while to warm up, unlike the novel, we do not get to delve into Vlad’s castle until close to the end of the first act. What we see instead is the burgeoning relationships back home, between novice lawyer Jonathan Hawker (Charlie Suff) and Madeleine Schofield’s earnest Mina Westerfield engaged to be married, and the blossoming romance of Max Dinnen’s Arthur Seward and Ioanna Kimbook’s Lucy Westermann. These initial scenes play out like like a Victorian drawing room comedy without the wit of a Wilde to keep it motoring. It always feels like we are waiting for our main event.

What this initial schematic allows Lochhead to do though, is to frame the narrative closer to the themes she wishes to explore. Her version keeps the Westerman sisters and their newly discovered, Vampire assisted, carnality front and centre. Schofield’s Mina may start the play chiding her sister for contemplating sex before marriage but once she has succumbed to Drac’s bite her base desires froth to the surface. Kimbook’s Lucy feels even more the protagonist of the piece, her early childish innocence, caught as she floats on a swing singing to herself, turns to a women who demands her doctor beau spends the night with her. What is implicit in the book becomes explicit here.

It may take awhile but once the thrills and spills start there is rarely any let up. Walton’s training at Ecole Phillipe Gaullier ensures the physical score of the piece is always effectively demonstrative. There is an especially effective set piece when the brides of Dracula stake out Harker, edging ever closer, erotic and terrifying all at once and lit, full of chilling looming shadows by Rachel Stinton. Similarly the climatic scene,so often eliciting laughs for its operatic heightened emotions is given full gory effect here.

The acting, as is always the case with BOVTS graduating students is first rate. The four lovers all effectively portray the decadent collapsing of their moral compasses while Taheen Modak ensures his vampyre stays just the right side of cliché. Best of all though is James Bradwell’s Renfield, a highly physical and committed performance, sweatily effective in making us feel for a servant literally possessed by his masters.

The run sold out before opening (Bristol does like its events) but its worth trying to pick up a return. The fear was that the tunnels may have made the show little more than a gimmick but instead it opens up the work and lets us get a close up view of one of the enduring works of literature. Four bloody fangs.

Dracula plays at Loco Club until the 17 March.