Review: Action to the Word’s Dracula at Ed Fringe 2014
When I got my tickets for this Steampunk rendition of Bram Stoker’s novel I had no idea it was a world premiere. The packed house was rowdy even for a 9:20pm start time, aided no doubt by the chaos in the Pleasance courtyard below. The set is composed mostly of low scaffolding that is used athletically by the extremely physical Dracula and co. I love a show where the actors are also the musicians, and this ensemble included not only the essential elements of a rock band, but also a violin, bass, flute and cello that were expertly played and nearly flying across the stage in this extremely energetic performance. The costumes were fantastic, especially those of Mina and Lucy and I coveted every corset.
The director, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, made some interesting choices with gender, most obviously making Doctor Seward female. One of Dracula’s ‘wives’ was male, which also added an interesting twist to the story that everyone thinks they know. This was definitely an adaptation of the famous movie, using many of the details that were added to the film that never appeared in the book. But, they made some other additions like great stage combat and a more empowered Mina for their own flavor and I really enjoyed the whole performance, which included original songs as well as covers of some unexpected ones.
The only downside was the audience itself. One girl in my row got nauseous from the special effects blood (of which there is a lot, so be prepared if you are squeamish), but the worst were the idiots who laughed over and over at inappropriate moments. For some reason just the name Van Helsing elicited giggles. These were also the same people who gave a standing ovation at the end though, which makes me think they were probably friends and family of the actors and were reacting more to seeing their loved ones acting strangely than to the acting itself, which was great. Renfield’s crazy and Lucy’s delirium were fantastic, and the manic Dracula was alternatingly sensual and spasmatic (in the best possible way).
The company, Action to the Word, has been touring all over the world with its version of A Clockwork Orange, and this is their newest addition to theater scene.
Get your Ed Fringe tickets here: tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/dracula
There is more than one Dracula at Fringe this year, so make sure you get tickets for the right one!
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) Breaks the Mold When it Comes to Movies Based on Books…
I honestly can’t remember any other time this has happened to me, but I think the movie is actually BETTER than the books it is based on! It takes the best elements of Volume 1 a smidge from Volume 2, but the plot is totally different from either in the end.
Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) if the first recruit after armed men attack him in Africa. Though he is on shaky ground with queen and country he answers the call and finds himself in London face-to-face with a mysterious agent for the crown known only as “M” (Richard Roxburgh). He meets the other members so far assembled like Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Mina Harker (aka Mina Murray, played by Peta Wilson) and Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), who is this version of the League’s Invisible Man.
They set off together to bring a reluctant Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) into the fold, where they are ambushed by The Phantom and his men. Luckily, Tom Sawyer (Shane West) of the CIA had infiltrated the henchmen and saves our heroes with his sharp shooting. After Quartermain and Sawyer capture Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) in Paris the League is complete, and M sends them to Venice to save a group diplomats at a peace summit. The plot thickens when they find out there is a traitor in their midst, and the string of explosions bringing Venice down around them is only the beginning.
This movie is really fun and I love watching it. The effects are special and the action is well-paced. It doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground and besides Nemo’s car it doesn’t really have as many gadgets as one might like to see in their Steampunk, but I love seeing a world where all of these literary heroes (and anti-heroes) get to team up.
There are a few very important differences from the books to the film, some of which were brilliant and some were disappointing. First, Dr. Jekyll gets to play a much larger role in the movie than in the books, and with the addition of Gray and Sawyer the League feels bigger and more complete. Mina is given both a larger and smaller role at the same time, because in the books she is the clear leader of the League but in the movie she is not only a scientist but force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. I think she was subsumed as leader mostly because of the desire for a Sean Connery type to play the part of Quartermain. The League didn’t have quite enough “flash” to it for the big screen, so they needed a more dynamic male lead to be opposite Mina (especially if they had hopes to pursue a romantic storyline in a sequel). There aren’t that many silver fox action heroes out there, so I think they took advantage of having the right actor for that kind of part rather than keeping to the book’s portrayal of Allan as a skinny, wrinkly drug addict.
All in all, I would say the changes that they made helped the movie to feel full and rich in a short amount of time when they didn’t have two books to work with.
Steampunk Book Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1
Steampunk is all about literature, and nowhere else will you find so many Victorian-era characters rubbing elbows as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from Vertigo. The creator, Alan Moore (whose brilliant mind also brought us The Watchmen) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill take their audience on a wild ride which spans several classic works of science fiction and creates a way for them to occupy the same universe.
The story opens with the corpulent Campion Bond (an ancestor of James Bond) who convinces Mina Murray (aka Wilhemina Harker’s maiden name in Dracula, 1897) to go on a recruitment mission on behalf of the British government. She picks up the opium-besotted ex-adventurer Alan Quartermain (King Solomon’s Mine, 1885) with the help of Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1870). After a jaunt into The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) for the title character and a school run by notorious fictional dominatrix Rosa Coote to pick up The Invisible Man (1897), the league is ready for action.
They head next to London’s East End, where the nefarious Fu Manchu (referred to only as “The Doctor” for copyright reasons) has stolen a valuable mineral that allows heavier than air flight. He is at war with another crime lord on the West End (none other than Professor Moriarty of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894), and the conflict is on the verge of costing countless lives. Can the heroes beat the bad guys, and the clock, to save the day?
This is a really fun book and I definitely recommend it for fans of Victorian-era fiction. Over the many iterations of the series literally hundreds of literary figures and places grace the pages, so it is kind of like a who’s who of Victoriana. I occasionally have issues with some of the liberties Moore takes with core character traits, but otherwise it is a great display of imagination. As a bonus, if you get the first volume you also get 30 pages of cover art, games, stories and fake historical factoids in the spirit of the Victorian era.
Fair warning, Volume 2 goes darker, dirtier and deadlier, and you can read all about it next week when I review it!
Have you read this book? What did you think?