Although named after F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist masterpiece, this version by director Grzegorz Jarzyna of TR Warszawa, is as loosely connected to that film as it is to Bram Stoker’s source novel, Dracula: not so much a resurrection as a re-birth.
This is no exercise in schlock horror; although there is a doom-laden atmosphere and some compellingly dramatic moments, the melodrama of creaking coffins and thrusting stakes are eschewed in favour of more subtle, not to say elliptical, psychological drama. Jarzyna’s free adaptation features neither a Transylvanian castle nor a rat-infested ghost ship but focuses instead on an intimate power struggle in an unnamed community where a pallid-skinned, black-clad stranger exploits already existing divisions to his own nefarious advantage.
There is plenty to sink your teeth into in this production, though this is an intellectual rather than visceral piece and despite the crimson streaks on stage, there are times when it seems rather bloodless. It’s an interesting idea to suggest how the ennui of a wealthy but soulless household subconsciously invites the predatory attentions of a vampire. And it’s a refreshingly different take to portray a desiccated Dracula, weary of the endless repetition of ‘eternal emptiness’ in his neither living nor dead twilight world. But the longueurs of this lethargic set-up themselves become tedious, as we wait for something to happen amid the scientific and philosophical discourse.
As with TR Warszawa’s two previous productions at the Barbican, 4.48 Psychosis and T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. (which this resembles in its theme of a mysterious outsider destroying a dysfunctional family), Nosferatu boasts some ravishing images and polished stagecraft. Magdalena Maciejewska’s set depicts an elegant but empty house, with translucent white curtains billowing in the wind as an unseen spirit hovers expectantly outside, while Jacqueline Sobiszewski’s subdued lighting casts sinister shadows on the walls. Piotr Dominski’s moody sound effects of thunder storm and cawing ravens are underlined by John Zorn’s portentous score.
Wolfgang Michael’s Austrian accent emphasizes the ‘otherness’ of Nosferatu, and his sombre lassitude gives the sense of going through the motions, but it is difficult to understand any sexual magnetism he has over his victims. More vampish than virginal, Sandra Korzeniak gives a strong performance as the self-destructive Lucy, pursued by three men including Krzysztof Franieczek’s portrait of an artist as a metaphorical bloodsucker. Lech Lotocki’s neurotic Renfield guiltily obeys his ‘master’, while Jan Englert’s obsessive vampire hunter Van Helsing is far from spiritually strong in his showdown with the ‘prince of darkness’.
This production offers an interesting alternative to the traditional Gothic horror tropes and goes beyond the good versus evil dichotomy of the Dracula story in its depiction of a morally ambivalent material world. But despite the underlying erotic tensions and dry humour, it is meditative rather than primal, and rarely quickens the pulse.