The Barbican Theatre, London
31st October – 3rd November
TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy
Director – Grzegorz Jarzyna
Cast – Sandra Korzeniak, Wolfgang Michael, Katarzyna Wanke, Jan Englert, Jan Frycz
Running Time – 110 mins
Language – Polish (English surtitles)
“I never drink – wine” states a mysterious, pale stranger. The audience laughs whilst the guests at this dinner party continue quaffing their wine, we understand the joke but they don’t, the stranger is clearly the dark count himself, Nosferatu. Unfortunately, this tedious attempt at humour is one of the few high points of TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy’s ‘Nosferatu’. Written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna this production is based on elements of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula and 1922 silent film ‘Nosferatu’ and spends a difficult 110 minutes trying to convey many mixed messages.
The tale is set in an unspecified location, some sort of grand and probably isolated house. The stage itself is a neatly designed art deco-esque hall which serves as multiple rooms as the furniture is stripped away and moved. There are large windows with billowing curtains, it’s all a little bit Goth.
At the centre of the narrative is Lucy (Sandra Korzeniak) a smouldering redhead who falls victim to the darkness and power of Nosferatu (Wolfgang Michael). Lucy spends the majority of the play either wandering round in a daze or in her underwear, the rationale for both is equally flimsy. To the lacklustre horror of her fiancé and acquaintances, she undergoes the transformation into a creature of the night. The rest of the plot remains confusingly underdeveloped as Jarzyna attempts to touch on too many areas.
The women of the piece are capable of nothing more than moaning, posing and insipid flirting. Wolfgang tries to arouse some excitement out of the women but their cries of masochistic pleasure fall painfully flat. Considering the current social hype around the sensual and mystical phenomenon of vampires, the presentation of sexuality was embarrassing and crass – in one scene Lucy ‘feeds’ from Nosferatu’s groin, although you can imagine what the staging alluded to.
The doctors, Seward (Jan Englert) and Van Helsing (Jan Frycz), attempt to understand Lucy’s death and her unusual condition becomes a vehicle for a philosophical discussion about life, science, death and the supernatural. This is one of the weakest parts of the script as neither has a strong or eloquent enough argument, or is able to develop it in any convincing manner. Not to mention the piece is performed in Polish and the English surtitles are a terribly inadequate translation.
Jarzyna’s attempts to capture the filmic qualities of ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) and ‘Dracula’ (1931) are similarly underdeveloped. John Zorn’s epic soundtrack sets the emotional tone for many scenes, making up for the lack of engaging acting, and keeps the audience entertained during the dreary scene changes. The use of extremely precise microphones upon the performers replicated the detail of sound only heard in film, which was surprisingly inviting. However, no matter how much dry ice and moody lighting Jacqueline Sobiszewski’s design provided there was a distinct lack of atmosphere within this dirge.
‘Nosferatu’ struggles on, never quite gaining the strength to breathe life into this well worn story. Jarzyna’s indulgence as director and writer has allowed him to run wild with the richness of too many ideas, leaving an empty, almost unfinished piece. One can’t help but feel that he should have reined things in and focused his vision more specifically. He could have come up with something a little more worthwhile to convince you to part with your cash. At £16 – £35 a ticket there are much better ways to get your vampire fix this winter.