As the Fitzrovia Radio Hour prepares for its new adaptation of Dracula, directed by Cal McCrystal at the Mercury Theatre Colchester, one of its writers, Tom Mallaburn, describes how the company uses the vintage radio form to create theatre in 2014...
In the six and a half years that the Fitzrovia Radio Hour has been around we’ve been confronted with many challenges. Amongst them: how to create the sound of the Eiffel Tower being stolen, how to create the sound of the sound barrier breaking, and how to get from Carnforth to Berwick on a Sunday when the tour van has just broken down on the M6.
But creating a new radio theatre adaptation of Dracula has been our most challenging assignment yet. Normally our shows consist of three or four outlandish stories, interspersed with adverts for fictional products. But with Dracula we simply have that one, very famous, story and a selection of off-mic subplots for the 1930s radio actor characters – some romantic, some violent!
Fortunately the story of Dracula lends itself well to the unpleasant, grotesque sound effects that are a staple of our shows. The sound of dead bodies being staked, or stomachs being ripped out, necks bitten and broken, blood sucked, insects eaten... an orgy of death and destruction just waiting to be turned into a disgusting soundscape. So... for staking, we hammer a small wooden stake into a cabbage; for the ripping of stomachs we manhandle the insides of a melon, for the biting of necks we bite into an apple, for the sucking of blood we suck on a peach, and to eat an insect we eat said peach. Actors tend to have a reputation for eating unhealthily on tour. In our show you are definitely guaranteed your five-a-day.
But hideous sound effects are not the only thing our new show offers. One of the many great things about using a 1930s radio broadcast to create theatre is that you can play around on several levels: the actual radio stories being told, the struggles of the actors to create the live sound effects for those stories and the interactions between the 1930s radio actor characters. So it’s always a nice mix of the “what” and the “how”.
We’ve often played around with creating off-mic subplots for the 1930s radio actor characters but here, in this adaptation of Dracula, they come to the fore even more. Armed with a familiar story to most of our audience - and a crusading director in Cal McCrystal - we’ve felt much freer to explore the lives, relationships and desires of the actor characters performing the radio play.
So, not only will there be romances and rivalries unfolding during the show, but also a much more sinister subplot will play itself out. For in this fictional 1930s radio world the man hired to play the title character in Dracula is a Romanian nobleman with a huge commitment to his role... I think you can imagine the consequences!
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 15th November 2014. Please visit www.fitzroviaradio.com for information and tickets.