We enter to find that there is an ornate Victorian proscenium arch, plush crimson curtains and a wind-up gramophone playing some Mozart. But there are patches in the curtains and cracks in the arch, and when a stagehand hastily sets up a spotlight that promptly explodes, it becomes clear that we are in for an evening full of comic surprises. Le Navet Bete are an Exeter-based touring theatre company who specialise in physical comedy. Dracula The Bloody Truth takes as its starting point the idea that Bram Stoker’s famous novel is a romanticised version of real-life events. Professor Van Helsing is furious with Stoker and is determined to put the record straight, so he has hired three actors to help him explain what really happened. Dracula is still on the prowl so Van Helsing is desperate to be taken seriously. He earnestly explains that he is presenting an illustrated educational lecture; it is not a play – ‘I hate theatre’ – and it’s not meant to be entertaining. Of course, to his frustration what follows is pure theatre; a noisy, farcical romp through the Dracula story. Four male actors taking on a bewildering number of roles while battling with mistimed sound effects, shoddily constructed props and wayward lighting. Everything that can go wrong does so, often to hilarious effect. Eventually, a sequence involving a volunteer from the audience brings the house down – literally – and the first half comes to a breathless close.
Dracula The Bloody Truth is directed by John Nicholas, of Peepolycus fame. There is a danger in a show like this that the comic chaos can overwhelm the story-telling, but generally he has got the balance right. There are moments when the dialogue is hard to follow in all the mayhem, and the pace is so frenetic that anyone unfamiliar with the details of Stoker’s original tale is likely to become more than a little confused, but that hardly matters, for there’s no mistaking the silliness. There are dreadful puns, silly wigs, moments of gross-out humour, and plenty of robust slapstick. Le Navet Bete’s four actors are wonderfully skilled at pretending to be incompetent, and the show is pitched at just the right level to appeal to the broadest possible audience. When things become gruesome there’s mock-horror, not shock-horror – it’s fine for children over the age of eight or so. After the interval things become a tad repetitive, and there are fewer moments of outright hilarity, but everything is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a gloriously daft song and dance routine. Dracula The Bloody Truth is great fun. Highly recommended. ★★★★☆ Mike Whitton 21st September 2017