10 February to 5 March
By Wendy Samantha
An enticing entrance awaits you as six clever doorways stand awaiting a confrontation for what may be lurking behind. Zigzag shades of grey pattern the cold stage floor and a sterile table sits front of stage right. There’s a slightly hazy atmosphere, as the lyrics ‘bite’ scream louder at you just to open the performance.
Attending Nosferatu at the Malthouse on a pleasant Summer evening was like biting into a delicately prepared rare cooked cheeseburger that oozed creative juices. I say this because there are just so many layers this production involved and of course, and rightfully so – there was also a lot of blood dripping down the edges.
An adaptation on the 1922 silent film Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror, this play uses characters and imagery derived from the German original which itself was based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Set today in the little mining town Bluewater, Tasmania the story opens to tell of the struggle the local community is facing to stay afloat and they are in a desperate search for an investor to bring the town back to life. Enter the two unsung heroes in Tom (Keegan Joyce) and Mayor Knock (Max Brown) who have received a lead that might save them all. Holding off his journalist girlfriend Ellen (Shamita Siva) who is desperate to publish a report on the town’s environmental degradation, it is decided that Tom will journey to Sydney to meet the possibility and of course this is where the fun begins.
After Knock crosses the stage to visit ‘the one that got away’ in Kate (Sophie Ross) who opens door 6 to reveal a her doctor’s medical room, door 4 and 5 are used as entrances and exits to allow the ins and outs displaying Tom’s attempts at affection and Ellen’s cool reactions to him in what seems to be a rather unremarkable love story. Her attention is drawn more to the book she is reading – Nosferatu, recently given to her by their neighbour Kate. Cleverly, this puts the friendship circle together and links all 4 Tasmanians as they now face the imminent landing of Count Orlock (Jacob Collins-Levy).
With all good horror flicks and tales, our hero ventures off into the unknown and faces all sorts of confusion before coming face to face with the monster, who he believes is the town’s saviour. Writer Keziah Warner uses an outline of an all too familiar pathway that delicately entices us to believe the story will follow those we’ve known before. This means the audience relaxes into their seats, even with the heightened energy that floods the stage as soon as the Count opens the door. But this is no ordinary vampire story, and whilst the top layer of paving seems recognisable it could take many months to dig up and discover what is hidden under that thin concrete.
Hitting modern day times, we are filled with the latest technology whereby phones are part of our soul and we must be contactable at all times. Themes of sexuality, venture capitalism, and what is good for the environment are blurred with twists and turns of various relationships and mental states met with a gothic undertone. There are moments of hilarity with relatable jokes and the cliche references to enjoy.
A highlight of the production is definitely when the soil filled door 1 opens and Tom falls out after being missing for 2 weeks. Under the spell of the vampire though, he brings the Count back to Bluewater and, despite Orlock devouring the entire cabin crew he does go on to lift the spirits of those in the town. Lift the spirits out of, perhaps would be the better wording here!
As the story unfolds and more blood is spilled, scenes and staging start to overlap each other more as the chaos builds. Mayor Knock succumbs to the desire of power, Tom’s good heart fails that love is not enough, Kate rummages through a rubble of her beliefs in truth, people and place, and Ellen’s after that big story to publish which gives her a killer ending.
There is a cacophony of voice and creative visuals, with your senses being heightened as so many things happen all at once. And whilst most stage productions clear a scene in order to enter another, the players here make use of props left from previous parts and walk, lie or are dragged into other spaces on the stage whilst something else is taking place. I believe Director Balodis has done this purposefully, as it is explained several times in the play how it feels to have an elevated awareness of your surroundings as a vampire. There are moments where you can truly relate to Count Orlock’s frustration in human daily behavior, particularly the chatter and you start to welcome a slaughter.
There is lots of dialogue in this play, and all actors display a professional precision with this. Keegan Joyce is natural on stage and his character felt the most relatable, watching his reactions to the events unfolding. Sophie Ross too, particularly as she confronts Knock at the ending, clearly depicting her sudden realisations in free reeling thoughts and feelings. Considering the supernatural content and overall theme of the play, being able to relate to what the characters are going through truly adds to the audience engagement. There were some remarkable scenes where Max Brown brought out the crazy, and Shamita Siva’s cold exterior became the obvious choice for the vampire’s attention. Jacob Collins-Levy used a mellow voice, suave grace and stage presence to fulfill his role as the memorable Count. The cape at the end was a nice touch!
Lighting in this production is highly effective, particularly the use of shadow projections and colouring above the doorways and across the floor. The sound also adds to the eerie atmosphere and I must admit I did look behind me several times throughout the show. Costumes and use of colour is well thought out, particularly at the dinner party and the staging and set was well used. I liked the intricacy with the vines and use of the table. It’s definitely a production to unpack, lots to think about but also loosened with some good one liners.
So, with many things to discuss after the final bow and much to clean up, those who are bloodthirsty will leave thoroughly hydrated.
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About the Author
Wendy Samantha is a writer and director and runs her own performing arts school. She has worked on many shows and musicals and is head of primary music at a prestigious Melbourne private school.
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