27th October 2000


Jo Cummins discovers that nothing is as it appears in Nosferatu The Visitor at the Jersey Arts Centre

Nosferatu - the spirit of evil. Is it a tale of vampires or not of vampires? Is it a tale of the supressed guilts and repressions of the living, or the sinister sucking of their lifeblood by the undead?
The audience at the Arts Centre last night may well have asked themselves these questions as they left the auditorium after the first performance by the Red Shift Theatre Company of 'Nosferatu The Visitor'.
It was a performance that was nothing short of brilliant, but which maybe posed more questions than it answered.
It's true that the characters of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' were there. Professor Van Helsing, Dr Jack Seward, Lucy Westenra and Renfield were all portrayed, but how different they were from the players that Stoker drew together on his pages.
Set in England in the late 1940's - maybe early 1950's - the story begins with the German professor visiting his old friend Dr Seward, who is in charge of the asylum where his star patient Renfield is incarcerated.
Van Helsing's first speech hints at discomfort. The war is over, the Germans profess horror at what has happened, yet he speaks already of some inner anguish. Could this be the same man who was the hero of Stoker's novel? His caring attitude seems to show that he is.
And what of John Seward, the philanthropic and noble doctor? Is he all that he appears to be, or is he suppressing hidden emotions that he doesn't want to face?
As in a film noir, nothing is as it appears on the surface - or is it? Is the onlooker delving too deeply or not deeply enough? It seems to be a constant list of questions, with the aim being to peel back the layers of the superficial only to discover more layers beneath.
The four superb actors put together a chilling story that perhaps exposes more of the characters' inner angst than the audience had been led to believe.
The stunningly simple sets and lighting did much to heighten the feeling of continual suspense - at each turn you didn't know what would be there to greet you on the other side. Yet there was no vampire - no pasty-faced, red-eyed man clad in a black cape with white teeth eager to take a bite of tender flesh and drain the blood necessary for his survival; But this lack of an identifiable entity only serves to make the story more chilling.
Nor are there vast expanses of heaving white bosom as we have come to expect in vampire productions, but at least you get a brief glimpse of a naked man. There were some humorous touches, but it was obvious that the audience didn't know whether to laugh or not in case it was the wrong thing to do. Suffice it to say that each person sees the production in a different way. The post-show discussion with the cast is a bonus that shouldn't be missed.
Unfortunately, not many people stayed behind to participate, but I would urge you to do so tonight or tomorrow as it is an opportunity to gain an insight into the players' emotions when interpreting their roles.
This play is not recommended for those under 16 and I agree that it's not exactly in the same genre as a kid's pantomime - but then it depends how mature you are.
Don't look for a carbon copy of 'Dracula', for it's not there. But it does leave you with an unanswered question. Is it true that the only really sane people are those who are mad?