Review: World Premiere of shake & stir’s Dracula

Nick Skubij and Ashlee Lollback in Dracula - shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.
Nick Skubij and Ashlee Lollback in Dracula – shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.

There are many impressive things about this young company (who by the way, turn 10 next year).

The accumulation of shake & stir’s hard work, talent, passion, energy, accessibility and commitment to theatrical excellence means that I look forward to every production they stage, knowing I’m in for a great night of theatre and can enthusiastically guarantee that punters will enjoy the show before even seeing it – now that’s a sign of success.

Their latest world premiere production, Dracula is such a success they extended the season to include a special midnight performance on Friday September 4.

Directed by Michael Futcher and adapted by shake & stir theatre co from Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel, Dracula; the story begins when a young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Tim Dashwood), visits Castle Dracula in Transylvania to assist Count Dracula (Nick Skubij) to purchase land in London, unbeknownst of his sinister plans and lust for blood.

Nick Skubij and Tim Dashwood in Dracula - shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.
Nick Skubij and Tim Dashwood in Dracula – shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.

Stated as shake & stir’s most technically ambitious show yet, I would have to agree. The ingenious revolve stage with transformative staircase (designed by Josh McIntosh) is sure to be nominated for some awards. When it comes to lighting, the humble smoke machine should not be underestimated. In the theatrical world, it really is the best invention since sliced bread. This one piece of ‘smoke and mirrors’, allowed Jason Glenright’s lighting design to paint pictures that will haunt your dreams.

Now I have to admit, horror is not my thing. I can’t actually watch a horror movie all the way through, and it did occur to me during the show, how cinematic some of the scenes looked. Even Guy Webster’s eerie score had a cinematic quality to it. Along with Leigh Buchannan’s detailed Victorian era costume design and Nigel Poulton’s choreographic scenes, the whole production team did an exemplary job in creating a thrilling atmosphere on-stage, to delight and shock the audience. There were more than a few gasps and even surprised squeals could be heard from punters – just like any good horror should invoke.

Nick Skubij as Dracula is perhaps his most challenging role, and certainly most mature performance to date. To transform into this other-worldly being was great craftwork. He was mysterious, measured, and terrifying.

Nellie Lee and David Whitney in Dracula - shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.
Nellie Lee and David Whitney in Dracula – shake & stir. Image by Dylan Evans.

Tim Dashwood as the naive lawyer was very well cast for the role and Ross Balbuziente as the love lorn Dr Jack Steward was also up to the task. The inner conflict between his love’s commands and his superior’s orders were well played. It’s a good sign when the audience is so engrossed in the story that you want to yell out to the character “Don’t do it!”. David Whitney as Van Helsing was commanding and had great presence onstage. He also impressively doubled up as Renfield which I did not even realise until afterward.

The gorgeous and talented Nellie Lee as Mina has a wonderful naturalistic style, which is to be commended, but at moments I wondered if it it could be a touch more stylised for consistency within the ensemble.

Ashlee Lollback, a new comer to the shake & stir main stage (although she has been part of the shake & stir touring team), was enchanting as Lucy. Her ‘possessed’ scenes were also a mark of great commitment to the craft. Although at the beginning, her character came across as too sweetly played, which read a little like a cliché, but her character developed as the story unfolded.

However, this is all just nit picking over a remarkable adaptation and brilliantly executed play. High production values, high stakes (pardon the pun), and highly recommended. A great cross-over theatre production for fans of horror.Dracula is playing in QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre until September 5. For more information, see QPAC’s website.

Warnings: High-level simulated violence & gore. Mid-level sexual & supernatural themes. Use of smoke & haze.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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