Nick Mohammad’s loveable creation Mr Swallow takes centre stage, in… a full-on musical adaptation of Dracula. Obviously. The show’s professional outer shell, particularly its fantastic lighting and sound effects, stands in contrast to Mr Swallow’s incessant attempts to “improve” the story – by making his character (a camp, smiling Dracula who enters on roller skates) the lead role. A strong cast of four, a brilliant live band and a smoke machine combine to make this a solidly produced all-round spectacle.
In many ways this is two shows in one. The first is a tight production of Bram Stoker’s gothic classic, but it’s is inter-cut with the second, a glimpse behind the scenes as the characters develop and tension builds. There’s conflict between the easily distracted Mr Swallow and impatient director Goldsworth (David Elms), who also plays Van Helsing. Both have very different visions for the project’s direction.
It transpires early on that we are sitting in on a full dress rehearsal. Some scenes are cut for brevity’s sake (Keiran Hodgson’s Jonathan Harker is allowed only to sing the final line of his big solo number) and Mr Swallow is always thinking of new ideas as the show goes on. A song about the wide drinks selection in Dracula’s castle? A strong independent Liverpudlian ferry stewardess? But needless to say, Mr Swallow is completely unsuitable as the evil Transylvanian count, and struggles to perform with anything like the subtlety and menace required.
The songs are all incredibly well performed. Mina Harker (aka Sally aka Joanna Grace) has a voice far better than it needs to be, in what is essentially a spoof. So much work has gone into this performance, creating a genuinely magnificent meta-musical, chock full of gags and invention. Dracula flying through Mina’s window is really quite special.
As Dracula sets sail for England, with Harker and Van Helsing following in hot pursuit, the show almost gets dark. An unexpected highlight comes during a midway break. The whole audience gets involved. It’s magical stuff.
Mr Swallow is a clever, endearing, infectious character, and the show is impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Even if you’re not that into musicals, this may just change your mind. And if you want to know whether Dracula survives this version… you’ll just have to go and see it.