The poster of Dark Summer is deceptive.
It promises sex and heat, mystery and illusion yet what is delivered is not quite what anybody is expecting.
A ‘tribute’ to Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, playwright Matthew O’Sullivan’s story begins when an old ‘horror house’ in Melbourne (with a mere history of 200 years) is sold to a Rumanian buyer by the ominous name of Vilcu (Matthew O’Sullivan). The young Jonathan Harker (James Deeth) who carries out this transaction soon finds himself, his partner David (Ashley Mckenzie) and younger sister Lucy (Sarah Ogden) caught up in a spiral that involves nightmarish visits by an over-poweringly desirous predator who demands willing ‘lovers’.
Kiwi author and theatre-film-television veteran O’Sullivan certainly writes brilliantly. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the pace quick and the characters well developed. Not least his own performance which was superb. Sweeping and majestic with crystalline diction O’Sullivan’s performance swept away the modern Melbourne that we know and transformed it in to a Rumanian castle steeped in mystery.
The scientific Dr. Peter van Helsing (Alec GIlbert) the antithesis of all supernatural and occult occurrences is the perfect nemesis for the villanious Vilcu and his speaches are particularly insightful without being loquacious. Both doctor and patient Bill Renfield (Paul Bugeja) give commendable performances, particularly the episode of battling inner voices which was exceptionally well given, complete with the repeated apology.
Excellent lighting by Jason Bovaird, solid direction given by Cameron Menzies and the beautiful execution of illusion and riveting script should have mesmerized the audience into complete silence.
But it didn’t. Loud guffaws, explosive snorts and endless giggles from various pockets of the audience drove the rest of its patrons mad with distraction. Even the actors, ignoring the standard rule to pause until audience laughter has died down, valiantly strove to dim the racket by continuing their dialogue only to lose much of their audibility.
What was supposed to be a deep and intimate exploration was reduced, as a result, very often to farce.
Perhaps, if anything, it may serve O’Sullivan better to replace the thunderclap of four letter expletives with an alternative that renders the audience speechless – because its clear that certain language choices had far from the desired effect.
An otherwise excellent production and well worth seeing, in the right company, of course.