- Presented by Triumph Theatre Productions Limited.
- National Tour: February 1975.
Character: Vivorde Szekels/Count Dracula
PETER as Count Dracula
I remember thinking that Count Dracula must be the modern-day Father Christmas as I walked into the Theatre Royal in York on the evening of February 3rd, 1975.
The auditorium was filled mostly with teenagers as I recall, with the occasional adult of carefully cultivated nervous dispositions thrown in for good measure, and we all had a great time watching PETER doing his X-Certificate bit with powers of darkness.
So why did they used to keep the kids away from Dracula and his pals? None of the old films had so many laughable shocks as this touring revival, and not letting the toffee-suckers in to see this would be akin to barring them from a pantomime.
To say that the play was not really scary would deny the success of a series of brilliantly executed stage effects – rats galloping and bats hurtling about to the accompaniment of delighted screams; chairs moving, books opening, doors slamming, darkness falling – all in a variety of interesting ways. But the biggest scare was reserved for the ghost train… with broad daylight and a toffee apple waiting at the other end.
On the impressive Gothic set prepared by the Billingham Forum Workshops, PETER was the master of ceremonies as the Count himself. He didn’t need to act a great deal, but appear and disappear at will in an amazing series of Victorian conjuring tricks.
His face, itself one of the best Gothic facades in show business, might be thought an asset to the part, yet more emphasis appeared to be placed on his scarlet-lined cloak.
The plot was not what could be described as awe-inspiring, switching between extremes of stage fright and long periods when the cast stood around telling each other what was what, who was who, and indeed, who was dead. Yet the audience – myself included – was content enough to wait, and watch Philip Lowrie as the madman Renfield gibbering his way in and out of his padded cell.
The unfortunate man ate rats and insects, raving behind the curtains, was mysteriously bitten on the neck, appeared drenched in blood, and was dragged out screaming: “Fools! Fools! The whole world is mad!”. A likeable character all the same.
Comic relief, should we have still needed it, was the province of David Killick – and army officer/silly-ass type who never quite got round to mentioning the “guaund piauno” but who asks Dracula: “Don’t you drink, old man?”
Leon Eagles played the exorcist professor – the one character to whom we might have looked for a little coolness and perhaps one of the genuine shudders, but he turned out to be the most melodramatic of the entire cast – the Count included!
Occasionally, the dialogue managed to laugh at itself as in Dracula’s comment about Transylvanian wine not travelling well, but more often than not, it was just background noise between the marvellous effects which were designed by PETER himself. He even spoke his great climatic oration as though it didn’t matter, and it didn’t. His stage-presence itself was simply awe-inspiring.
When Count Dracula and his blood-thirsty habits descended on York, the result was never disappointing.
The play was more funny than frightening, and for the Seventies at least, a little too far-fetched to scare anyone. However, it was wonderful entertainment, with magnificent special effects, both on and off stage.
As might be expected, PETER made a splendid Count in a full-length scarlet-lined cloak. He trapped a young girl into becoming one of his undead brides with great style, but perhaps because the story is known so well, his actions were a little predictable, although never dull. Another minor criticism was that the production lacked a little in the way of suspense, and the outcome rarely seemed in doubt when the forces of the darkness clashed with those of light.
Apart from Peter himself, Sally-Jane Spencer as Mina Seward – the young girl who falls into Dracula’s clutches, and Leon Eagles as the priest who was called upon to rescue her, were excellent.
“All that blood-sucking and the exited response of the girl when Dracula kisses her, it’s highly sexual. There’s a fascination for girls in his impeccable manners and mesmeric quality. Men find him irresistible because they can’t stop him. For women, there is their complete abandonment to the power of a man.”
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/