Northern Ballet goes for the jugular

Top hats were de rigueur at the Bradford Alhambra on Monday, along with opera cloaks, rip-me bodices and dingy silk crinolines. But you knew it wasn't a re-run of The Good Old Days by the preponderance of black lipstick. The Dracula Society had rallied up north for the first- ever full-length ballet devoted to its idol. And Northern Ballet Theatre's marketing department was having a ball too. They were even selling bulbs of garlic in the snack bar.

A sense of gothic ludicrousness infused the premiere of NBT's Dracula with fun, but in fact director Christopher Gable has aimed for a thoroughly serious account of Bram Stoker's novel of 1897 - a book which pursues its theme more grippingly than any of its myriad film versions. But how to reduce 300 pages to three acts with all the detail crucial to the plot? I presume it was Gable's own good idea to cut the main locations down to two - Transylvania and Whitby - but the development of narrative he left in the hands of his cast. This proved to be a weakness and a strength.

Gable is no ordinary dance-director with a starry past. His stage experience in straight theatre (with Peter Brook) as well as ballet has left him an enthusiastic advocate of actors' improvisation techniques as the basis for all preparation. In Dracula this pays off magnificently in the strength and subtlety of the acting. The neatly suited Jonathan Harker (Omar Gordon) is every bit the small-town solicitor, nervously newly wed and anxious to please. When, at Castle Dracula, three gorgeous, throat-fixated woman launch a voluptuous assault on his chastity, he responds as would a well brought-up Victorian forced to confront pornography - scandalised, but reluctant to forgo the pleasures.

His wife Mina (Jayne Regan) develops convincingly from innocent bride to semi-complicit cohort of the Count - a nice ambiguity that is left unresolved. Even when she finally falls prey to Drac's deadly embrace, her whole-body spasms as he whirls her violently about his shoulders might just as easily be from the ecstasy as from her fear. In the mental asylum, Jeremy Kerridge, as the pathetic schizophrenic Mr Renfield, achieves the grisly distinction of making us want to cry rather than laugh as he "dances" in his straitjacket.

Where NBT's committee approach falls down is in the plain telling of the story, the logic of the plot. Harker's homoerotic struggle with the Count in Act I may be theatrical shorthand for mental domination and physical incarceration (and it makes an excuse for some nifty leaps and spins), but those who haven't read the book are left confused as to whether our hero has been fanged or not - a fact crucial to the rest of the plot. And perhaps someone can tell me why, when Mina's friend Lucy falls ill after being vampirised (unbeknown to every character on stage), her doctor immediately thinks to surround her bed with garlic.

But Phillip Feeney's score and Lez Brotherston's designs make such scruples seem petty. Starting from blocks of sound such as an amplified heartbeat, tolling bells and high-pitched swooning vocalises, Feeney erects a majestic structure of staggering complexity, building long arcs of tension that hurl the action on and through each new and exhausting climax.

Brotherston's designs match the music for grandeur, yet dovetail into each other with such economy that we shift from Charing Cross Station to a village inn to a gothic castle in the blinking of an eye. Most seductive scene of all is the tea dance in Whitby - all tinkling silver spoons and white ironwork-like lace doilies - which becomes a freeze-frame wasteland when a storm breaks, the French windows smash, and the spirit of Dracula comes whiffling in on a thin blue beam of light.

Ballet lovers may be disappointed by the relatively small amount of dance in Dracula. The talents of Denis Malinkine as the Count are particularly underused, though his snake and bat impersonations are intriguing, and his sexual presence terrific. But ballet lovers would in this case be missing the point. Gable and his team have gone for whatever means serve their story best. They've gone for theatre. And they've gone for the jugular. I'm a complete sucker for it.

New Theatre, Hull (01482 226655), Tues-Sat; then touring to Nottingham, Edinburgh Sheffield and Blackpool.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

    Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

    £35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

    Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

    £15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea