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Review: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula, adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker, Colchester Mercury, until November 15

14:13 05 November 2014

David Benson as Dracula and Fiona Sheehan in The Fitzrovia Radio Hour

David Benson as Dracula and Fiona Sheehan in The Fitzrovia Radio Hour's Dracula at the Colchester Mercury

Archant

The setting is a BBC radio studio within Broadcasting House in 1937. Outside a thunder storm is raging causing the studio lights to flicker. In the studio next door Alvar Lidell is reading the evening news. Before us the cast of The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are poised to bring us a dramatic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Fiona Sheehan, Jon Edgley Bond and Dan Starkey in The Fitzrovia Radio Hour's Dracula at the Colchester MercuryFiona Sheehan, Jon Edgley Bond and Dan Starkey in The Fitzrovia Radio Hour's Dracula at the Colchester Mercury

The brilliant conceit behind this show is that Stoker’s classic tale is re-animated with a healthy dose of surreal humour. The story of Dracula is delivered not only as a radio broadcast but also as a tongue-in-cheek comedy. What we get is a play within a play. The narrative is dramatised faithfully on air but we also get to see the comic chaos which surrounds the broadcast.

Cast members fall-out, others fall in love, some are past their sell-by date and if all that wasn’t enough the regulars of The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are joined by a mysterious guest star, a Romanian count who has been drafted in to play the notorious title role.

The fast-moving adaptation has been vividly brought to life by director Cal McCrystal and writers Tom Mallaburn, Phil Mulryne and Jon Edgley Bond. The show is delivered with a deliciously light touch. Nothing is over played and they had the packed theatre roaring with laughter.

The show is well cast. David Benson relishes playing with his tortured east European accent and his courtly demeanor while Dan Starkey anchors the production as the one relatively ‘normal’ member of the cast who forms the bridge with the radio/theatre audience. Jon Edgley Bond is the matinee idol slumming it on radio, Fiona Sheehan is the young ingénue who is smitten with her leading man, while Joanna Wake is the eccentric veteran actress who solicits a round of applause after every scene with a genteel bow to the audience and Tom Mallaburn is the piano playing extra with a grudge against Fiona Sheehan.

The laughs flow thick and fast and there is plenty of atmosphere. McCrystal and the Mercury production team have created a very believable radio studio. For theatre audiences worried that this is merely a show about people gathered aropund a microphone reading scripts then nothing could be further from the truth. There is a host of frenetic activity as the cast produce all their own spot effects.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula produces a hugely entertaining night at the theatre without ever undermining its source material. It’s fun, inventive and captures that period feel perfectly. A total joy.

Andrew Clarke

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