November 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Nosferatu, Barbican, London

Grzegorz Jarzyna’s staging of the Dracula story uses drama to venture into dark and disturbing emotional territory

Two years ago the Polish company TR Warszawa brought a beautiful, harrowing production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis to the Barbican. Now they are back with another piece directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna that uses drama to venture into dark and disturbing emotional territory, but though a fictional story, and one so familiar that it has become a go-to myth for spooky dressing-up boxes. Opening, appropriately, on Halloween, Jarzyna’s version of the Dracula story wisely gives capes and bat-wings a miss and settles instead for a rummage through some of the bizarre psychological, sexual and metaphysical undercurrents in the tale.

It looks fabulous, Jarzyna working with Magdalena Maciejewska’s set design and Jacqueline Sobiszewski’s lighting to produce strikingly eerie cameos and to draw on the rich history of horror film imagery. Yet it ends up largely stranded in a strange twilight zone that is neither particularly terrifying nor psychologically illuminating. And it moves at a deliberately funereal pace that is intended to be hypnotic but produces a lack of suspense or tension.

The story unrolls in a chic contemporary space that is, interestingly, just too large for comfort, so that the characters look a little lost. Everyone is afflicted by a curious languor and disquiet, none more so than Lucy (Sandra Korzeniak), who in this version of the tale is half-naked and drowsily spellbound from the outset. Once her nocturnal adventures start to drain the life out of her, the men in the party become increasingly fascinated: Jarzyna’s staging draws no clear-cut distinction between good and evil, but evokes a dream world of submerged desires and fears, and suggests that there is a little of the vampire in each of us.

This is interesting, as are the arguments about rationalism and superstition and the revelation by Nosferatu (a lonely, mournful Wolfgang Michael) that he is weary of his eternal existence. But the production’s fitful style and somnambulant pace make engagement difficult. On press night Halloween techno-demons also produced poor microphone quality, while the English surtitles had a tendency to vanish like spectres.

There are some gripping scenes – the showdown between vampire slayer Van Helsing (Jan Frycz, every bit as unnerving as his prey) and Nosferatu, for instance – and one great visual effect, as Lucy turns into a vampire bride. And the sound design (Piotr Dominski) is hair-raising. But somehow this encounter with the undead still proves an oddly anaemic affair.

2 stars

www.barbican.org.uk

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