Dracula Churchill Theatre

THEATRE
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The Independent Culture
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus confronted what he saw as the "one truly serious philosophical problem": in an absurd universe, one devoid of meaning or intention, why not commit suicide? He found his answer in the figure of Sisyphus: the gods had condemned him to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, but every time he reached the top, the stone would roll down again, and the whole process would start all over again. Camus found in this image a possibility of fulfilment: "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Imagine this instead: Sisyphus doesn't have to roll a rock up a hill. Rather, several hundred yelling people are pelting him with "garlic-impregnated rocks" (actually cubes of foam rubber), and he has to stand on stage, batting the missiles away with a black cape night after night. Is there anything to fill a man's heart in there? Can we imagine Leslie Grantham happy?

Dracula - subtitled "How's Your Blood Count?" - is an extraordinary spectacle. A lengthy note in the programme discusses the kinship between horror and comedy, though almost entirely in terms of films, from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the present. This turns out to be a red herring: the only horror here is to be found in the coarseness of the slapstick (far more primitive even than anything Abbott and Costello ever lent themselves to) and the sheer singularity of the double entendres. How much you enjoy the evening depends very largely on how many plays on the word "come" you can tolerate.

The sheer vulgarity of the spectacle places it virtually beyond criticism - it's vulgar not simply in the sense of lacking taste, though God knows it does that, but in the sense of speaking a common tongue. From the very start, when you walk into the auditorium to find members of the cast gathered around a piano leading the audience in a music-hall singalong ("The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo", "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow"), it taps into a rich vein of popular culture: for all the rudeness, this is essentially nursery food, comforting because of its familiarity.

What makes the play seem so odd, though, is a strain of learnt humour that exists within it. While Micky O'Donoughue and Johnny Hanraham's script takes vast liberties with the plot - Jonathan Harker and the lunatic Renfield become rival estate agents trying to sell Whitby Abbey to the mysterious Transylvanian nobleman - the play does seem to be constructed as a spoof version of Bram Stoker's original story rather than a collection of generic vampire cliches. And some of the sillier humour derives from the writers' awareness of the novel's barely suppressed sexuality; the best piece of acting is Ian Kirkby's very proper Harker, squirming with embarrassment at a she-vampire's offer of sensual release.

None of the other performers attempts anything as complex as a character - Vicki Michelle is a cipher as Mina, Grantham under-used and apparently confused. Micky O'Donoughue dominates proceedings, in the dual roles of Renfield and Van Helsing - a furious, stubby gnome, like Benny Hill without the sophistication. As writer and star comic turn, I suppose the evening belongs to him. And frankly, he's welcome to itn

`Dracula', Churchill Theatre, Bromley (0181-460 6677) to Sat; Lyceum Theatre, Crewe (01270 537333) Mon to 16 Nov; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (01227 787787) 18-23 Nov

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