It might just be the perfect pre-Halloween treat.
While the title of White Rock Players Club’s newest production, Dracula: The Bloody Truth (until Oct. 26 at the White Rock Playhouse), suggests a gore-fest, director Cathe Busswood said it’s really much more of a yuk-fest.
“It’s the scariest show in the world – but mainly for the actors,” she quipped. “They’re all learning how to sweat.”
Rather than focusing on chills, the show puts its four highly capable players – Cale Walde, Lori Tych, Ben Odberg and Eric Fortin – through their comedy paces in a marathon attempt to portray some 40 characters in the decidedly melodramatic saga of the bloodthirsty Transylvanian count.
And with little time for them to hop into both male and female roles – beyond donning wigs and making rudimentary costume modifications – the absurdity quotient has been set high from the get-go.
“It’s really all about having a good time and sharing wonderful laughs with people,” Busswood – who is an actress as well as a director – said.
“Although I’ll admit seeing Cale in a dress is kind of scary.”
The play, created in 2017 by a melding of British talents – playwright John Nicholson and the supremely silly four-man physical comedy troupe ‘Le Navet Bete’ – has gleaned critical raves since its debut in Exeter, and has become a hot property for theatre groups in Canada and the U.S. ever since, while still being toured in the U.K. by the original cast.
“They wanted to do something about Dracula and came up with this wonderful idea about telling it from the point of view of (vampire hunter) Abraham Van Helsing,” Busswood said.
The premise of the piece is that an embittered Van Helsing (Walde) – disgusted that author/theatre manager Bram Stoker has purloined his notes on the quest to defeat the vampire and turned them into a lucrative Gothic novel – decides to stage his own theatrical event.
“He’s hired a theatre and three ‘idiot’ actors – at least, that’s what he thinks they are – to help him tell the ‘true’ story to the audience,” Busswood said.
Among key characters portrayed by the odd assortment of players are Jonathan Harker (Odberg), Mina Harker (Tych) and, of course, Count Dracula himself (Fortin).
“It’s sort of like Dracula meets The Woman In Black meets the guys from Monty Python and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) on the street corner,” she added.
In many ways it’s an ideal show for Busswood, who helmed the very successful 2018 WRPC production of Harvey.
That was a show originally intended to be directed by her late husband, actor/director Mike Busswood before his untimely passing last year.
And she’s also drawing on her past experience working with Mike on productions of The Woman In Black and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
“Theatre has become my safe and happy place,” Busswood said. “It invigorates my soul.
“When I was first asked to direct this show my first thought was, ‘are you serious?’ And then I thought – why shouldn’t I do it?”
Casting fell into place easily, Busswood said – she’d worked with both Fortin and Walde in Harvey, in which Fortin (who emerged as an actor to watch for in White Rock in The Woman In Black) appeared to great effect as the gentle Elwood P. Dowd, friend of the invisible rabbit of the title, while Walde gave a strong and sympathetic performance as sanatorium doctor Sanderson.
And while Dracula: The Bloody Truth was originally written to be played by four males, the ever-versatile and reliable Tych (most recently seen as Liz Essendine in WRPC’s Present Laughter, and in a two-performance fill-in appearance as producer Saunders in The Comedy of Tenors) was a shoo-in as a cast member, providing a welcome ‘woman’s touch’ to the comedy, Busswood said.
“How can you not cast Lori when she says she’s interested in going out for a show?” she chuckled. “She’s a multi-talented player who gives her all to everything she does.”
Another plum for the production, Busswood said, was finally luring the equally-versatile Odberg – well-known for his performance in Surrey Little Theatre’s The Last Lifeboat as well as The Game’s Afoot and The 39 Steps for Peninsula Productions – back to the stage after an extended hiatus.
“Ben is very comfortable doing this kind of work after appearing with Mike a lot of times in shows like in The Complete Works, The Dining Room and Greater Tuna, and also having done The 39 Steps.”
Helping round out her vision for the play is lighting design by Miles Lavkulich (The Woman In Black), and sound design by Gordon Gilmour, Busswood said.
While working on the show has been an exhausting and strenuous business – and each of the actors has hurt themselves physically during rehearsals – no-one denies they’re all having a lot of fun.
“They’re all the cream of the crop – and they’re all there to make me look wonderful,” she laughed.
Dracula: The Bloody Truth runs Wednesday to Saturday until Oct. 26 at White Rock Playhouse, with 8 p.m. curtain and two Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets ($24, seniors and students $20) are available at the White Rock Players’ box office at the theatre (1532 Johnston Rd., 604-536-7535) or at whiterockplayers.ca