Big Finish: DraculaBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dracula (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Bram Stoker, Dramatised by Jonathan Barnes

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula), Deirdre Mullins (Mina Murray), Joseph Kloska (Jonathan Harker), Nigel Betts (Abraham Van Helsing), Rupert Young (John Seward), Alex Jordan (Arthur Holmwood), David Menkin (Quincey P. Morris), Rosanna Miles (Lucy Westenra), Elizabeth Morton (Mary Westenra), Ian Hallard (Renfield), Edward Petherbridge (Mr Swales), Katy Manning (Sister Agatha).

Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016

Listening to this audio adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, this reviewer, who has never read the book, was struck by how familiar so much of the text is and how profoundly it has seeped into contemporary culture. And yet to hear such familiar dialogue as “The children of the night, such sweet music they make” in its proper context shows that this is a story which remains as unsettling as ever despite the many variations which have appeared over the last 119 years, a true classic of the horror genre. Following on from their successful 2014 collaboration on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writer Jonathan Barnes and Producer/Director Scott Handcock have once again teamed up to produce an adaptation which remains extremely faithful to the original novel with only occasional alterations made to allow for the expediency of the medium of audio drama. The original novels’ format of being presented as a collection of journal extracts and letters lends itself very well to adaptation with any new scenes added by Barnes slotting in so seamlessly that only those extremely familiar with the novel would recognise them.

The cast are all excellent. Mark Gatiss, who has presented programmes talking about his love of the character of Dracula in the novel and of the famous film portrayals of the Count by Lugosi and Lee amongst others, gives a perfectly judged performance which avoids the trap of overacting in the style of Bela Lugosi and instead allows the text to speak for itself in a confident understated manner. Also anyone fearing that this incarnation of the Count will sound like Gatiss’ portrayals of the Master in Sympathy for the Devil or even Mycroft from TV’s Sherlock need not worry as his deep-throated Transylvanian accent renders him almost unrecognisable. Joseph Kloska and Deirdre Mullins are well matched as Jonathan Harker and his betrothed Mina Murray with Mullins being given particular prominence as this adaptation chooses to make Mina much of a lead heroine than some previous versions have chosen to do. Kloska of course gets to narrate much of the famous opening chapters which see Harker arrive as unsuspecting guest of the mysterious Count in the heart of the superstitious horseshoe of the Carpathian region. They are well supported during the subsequent sections by the three suitors of Rosanna Miles’ Lucy Westenra in the form of Dr John Seward (Rupert Young), the Hon. Arthur Holmwood (Alex Jordan), and the brash American Quincey P. Morris played by David Menkin. These three eventually join forces with Nigel Betts’ (again not too overplayed) Professor Van Helsing to form an enjoyable ‘Scooby gang’ of investigators as the curse of the vampire spreads to England’s shores. The remaining cast includes Ian Hallard, who gives a sympathetic portrayal of Renfield, Edward Petherbridge in a brief but enjoyable turn as Mr Swales, and a convincing performance from Katy Manning who is entirely unrecognisable from her usual self as Sister Agatha.

The production is well supported by James Dunlop’s score, especially the discordant opening theme which will surprise on first listening but gains much with repeated hearing. Extracts from the score are included on the extras disc whose cast interview section will be of particular interest to Dracula aficionados.

Overall then, an excellent addition to the Big Finish Classics range which may well encourage listeners to explore Barnes’ contributions to the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes range including the forthcoming release The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, the Big Finish Classics range will continue next year with an audio version of Nicholas Briggs’ current stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.





The Judgement of Sherlock HolmesBookmark and Share

Friday, 20 May 2016 - Reviewed by Ben Breen

The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes (Credit: Big Finish)
The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes
Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast: Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes/Sherrinford Holmes), Richard Earl (Dr Watson), John Banks (Inspector Lestrade, Colonel Sebastian Moran), Tim Bentinck (Mycroft Holmes), Gemma Whelan (Mary Watson), Jemma Churchill (Helena Eidelmann), Terrence Hardiman (Dr Esau Thorne), Nicholas Chambers (The Reverend Samuel Griffiths), Joannah Tincey (Miss Jessica Hendrick), Dai Tabuchi (Dorje), David Killick (Lord Colney, The Earl of Pettigree)

Published by Big Finish in November 2014
Order from Amazon UK

This review is, almost embarrassingly, a short one.  However, there is a reason for that.  The plot would, I feel, take far too long to summarise to a satisfactory standard so I decided to merely talk on the cast and my overall verdict on the piece.  Moreover, as a reviewer, I had a large amount of enjoyment out of this adventure when I first heard it.  Therefore, I wish to leave that experience for those who wish to listen to this intricate story without knowing too much about it beforehand.

To those who are familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective works, they will know that Sherlock Holmes stories are structured in such a way as to keep you listening intently and on the edge of your seat the whole way through.  Big Finish’s take on this iconic character does exactly that, regardless of whether you have encountered their interpretation before.

After the apparent demise of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor John Watson retires and settles down into a life of ostensible simplicity.  However, after unexpectedly encountering his old friend alive and well, Watson begins to, in part, unpick the pieces of what happened in the time since they last worked together.  However, it gradually becomes clear why Holmes asks his former partner to assist him in taking down the events he chronicles, as the plot wends its way to a dramatic climax.

It is interesting to note that even from the beginning of Watson’s introductory narration there are references to adventures undertaken and plans thwarted that have (to my knowledge at least) not been discussed.  This makes for interesting listening, keeping attention focused on the words even to hear a hint on any of these additional tales, even if no such word comes.  The opening monologue serves as a useful and welcome lead in to the main plotline, establishing the time period and Doctor Watson’s current circumstance.

The plot, though woven through with, what might seem to be, complex and numerous interlinking threads, pulls you along with it, allowing the listener to be taken in by the characters, the auditory landscapes and the spectacle of a story that takes you through the trials and tribulations of Holmes, Watson and various other characters.

All performances to be found in this adventure are confident and well delivered, with Briggs as Holmes and Earl’s Watson having an immediate chemistry from their first interactions, regardless of whether you’ve heard their preceding adventures.  The cast all interact well with each other, with the result feeling almost cinematic in nature and enabling the events to unfold with occasional unanticipated results (a change from the stereotypical and possibly predictable murder mystery that might be associated with Holmes).  The piece, as a whole, interlinks what could be considered as incongruous elements into a story that allows for the listener’s imagination to navigate locations that are, to say the least, at times, unusual.

The score featured in this adventure is second to none, though at points it is slightly too loud (particularly the main theme).  However, even at the points where it is not present, the ambience and sound design make up for the lack of score, building the atmosphere and settings in a realistic manner.  Speaking of the sound design, the landscape is mapped out in a way that makes the world the characters inhabit even more believable, from the carriages and horses to the weather and the elements.

Regardless of whether you’ve heard the Big Finish interpretation of Sherlock Holmes or not, I’d suggest you give this adventure a listen.  The amount of detail and effort that has been put towards replicating the style, atmosphere and characterisation in Doyle’s works is evident, with the company’s own additions and casting choices improving on what might be considered a pre-existing formula.