Throughout history, there have been many versions of the classic vampire tale.
From novels written hundreds of years ago to current pop culture with films and television shows, one such tale, Nosferatu, is a silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula. Written by Keziah Warner and directed by Bridget Balodis, Nosferatu has been converted into a stage play and opened on the 15th of February at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre.
Upon entering the theatre, it was hard not to be impressed by the grandeur of the stage. The entire front section of seats of the Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre had been removed and the stage extended to take up a massive space. However, the stage itself was rather bare, with a lone dining table and chairs to the left and a wall across the back with six doors.
Set in the small, isolated Tasmanian town of Bluewater during a period not long after their copper mine has shut down, the local mayor, James Knock, (Max Brown), along with Tom (Keegan Joyce), have been trying to reinvigorate the town. They enlist the help of Count Orlok (Jacob Collins-Levy), a man of ‘old money’, and after the planting of a new vineyard, the town begins to see prosperity for the first time in years. Before long, events take a dramatic turn, and the locals start disappearing. With the aide of local reporter Ellen (Shamita Siva) and medical professional Kate (Sophie Ross), the four slowly uncover Count Orlok’s true intentions.
Nosferatu is not afraid to have fun with all the classic vampire cliché’s and I found myself laughing quite a lot. Something as simple as not entering a room without being invited in had me cackling. However, there is much more underneath from capitalism, to infidelity, grief, fear of letting go, unconditional devotion, and the strength of the human spirit in the face of evil. Each of these themes are expertly played out by the entire cast.
There is so much that I loved about this play, the epically large stage yet simplistic in its design with its six doors. The ever-present white noise of eerie music to build tension and drama within the scenes. Lighting that would change rapidly from light to dark, highlighting certain parts of the stage to grab your attention yet left enough intrigue to the happenings around the present scene. The lone dining table with an illuminated surface that changed colour and even the blood-rain. Nosferatu’s creative team have really outdone themselves with this one. All of this and I haven’t even gotten to the performances yet!
Sophie Ross as Kate and Shamita Siva as Ellen are equally as fantastic in their respective roles. Jacob Collins-Levy as Count Orlok commands the entire room whenever he is on stage. His posture and deep voice created a presence that was exquisitely captivating, infectious to be around, yet one that was also to be feared. The perfectly dry delivery of the humourous parts of his character had me almost falling off the chair.
Keegan Joyce’s character Tom starts out determined and hopeful and I was impressed with how quickly Joyce was able to switch into the bumbling mess that Tom became to be. He was terrified and unsure of what to believe anymore. As if Joyce was also battling with Tom’s own sense of reality, it felt unbelievably real.
And of course, Max Brown as Mayor James Knock, a character that only ever wants what is best. Brown’s body language gave me a sense of an inner struggle, almost as if his moral compass and eagerness to serve were fighting each other to come to the surface. I felt a deep sense in humanity in his superb performance, one that adds to the argument that people do not inherently become evil. Even in the face of pure evil, Knock’s character remains strong in an effort to preserve life and honour their morals.
The whole team behind Nosferatu should be extremely proud with what they have been able to produce. A tale that is hundreds of years old, re-written with an Australian modernised twist. I appreciated the subtle Aussie touches that Warner cleverly wrote into the play. And whilst at its core, it’s a twisted and gloomy tale of capitalism, I deeply appreciated the subtle and dark humour the most.
Nosferatu is on now at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre. With sessions running until Sunday the 5th of March 2023, there is not much time left to grab your tickets and see this amazing production.
I *invite* everyone to go and see Nosferatu, you will not be disappointed.
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Photography by Pia Johnson.