Theatre: The Blood of Dracula The Coliseum, Oldham

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The Independent Culture
With Judge Jeffries and The Mysteries of Maria Marten among his many credits, Chris Bond has been dipping more than just a toe into the murky streams of melodrama for some considerable time. I recall long ago being the hapless superintendent of a party of nine-year-olds who barely let the actors complete their curtain call before they had invaded the stage to sample the leftovers from his Sweeney Todd. How my charges would have relished some of the scenes in this Broadsides revival of The Blood of Dracula: an amputated hand departing for the sky as though shot from a cannon, and the consequences of their helpless mirth at exactly how Dracula is stopped in his tracks by the sound of running water is only too easy to contemplate.

Unfortunately, they would have to wait until after the ice-creams for these delights. The first half is dull even beyond the ingenuity of this inventive company. Their version has the boobyish Jonathan and his wife Lucie on an improbable honeymoon in Transylvania organised through Thomas Cook by her father Sir John, a purveyor of sausages to the quality - including, of course, the local Count. Watch those sausages. Lucie, however, is already in the ranks of the undead and her somnolence is the cause of such tediously reiterated complaint from her frustrated husband, I longed for some differently thwarted nine-year-old to march up and say, "Look, you see these marks on her neck..."

Fortunately the servants know what's what and what's required. First Krebbs (Barrie Rutter) and then his puzzlingly whiskery wife (Barrie Rutter) come to the rescue of the visitors and the evening. Both wisely accessorise with garlic, necklaces doubling usefully as rosaries, and, for Mrs K, two bulbs which make the most impressive ear-rings seen since the heyday of Beryl Reid's Marlene. From the opening cod-German gravedigger's speech, and his counsel against the likelihood of establishing meaningful relationships with vampires, to the beatific wave good-bye with which Mrs Krebbs accepts her dissolution, Rutter and Rutter pump up the circulation of the whole show. To the pulse of Conrad Nelson's excellent incidental music, gizzards are ripped out, blood whale-spouts across the stage, and, until Fine Time Fontayne douses him with his unmentionable, Dickon Tyrrell's Dracula is like a Rotweiller with a pheasant. All that remains is the sausage denouement - but you've guessed that already.

Despite the roistering finale, this is not up to Broadsides' usual standards, mainly because the gothic spoof is by now so hard to animate. But, as the recent Romeo and Juliet, soon to rejoin their touring repertory, shows, they remain a redoubtable and original company.

The novelty of the approach is past, but what is steadily emerging is the continuity of vision and the incomparable value of long-tern ensemble work, something all too rare in contemporary theatre.

To 18 Jan (0161-624 2829)

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