x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A night at the theatre results in ensuing nights of terror

An amateur production of Dracula was somewhat scarier than expected.

The teenage world seems to have an affinity with pale creatures of the night that enjoy sucking people's blood in their free time. First it was Twilight, then it progressed to House of Night, Sucks to Be Me and the Vampire Diaries TV series.

Most vampires in teen literature aren't the horrendous, ruthless monsters they're meant to be, but beautiful softies who, annoyingly, keep falling in love with the girl they're meant to be eating for breakfast. Vampires have gone the same way as school bullies: you don't throw them in detention but stick them in a psychologist's room and blame it all on their unfortunate circumstances. Vampires aren't dramatically chased around with stakes anymore but are felt sorry for, and made to feel sorry for themselves for having become the dreadful thing they have become.

Where, the question that begs to be asked is, are the real vampires: the ones who creep silently out of coffins, who prowl around stealthily looking for their newest victims, have blood smeared all over their chins and look like they urgently need the services of a top-notch Harley Street dentist? Of course, you don't get more of a "proper vampire" than Bram Stoker's delightful Count Dracula, and I was more than a little excited when a friend phoned to say she had tickets for a performance of Dracula at Ductac, and would I like to come along?

And so I found myself obediently shuffling along to the mall. A pamphlet thrust at us by an eager usher informed us that the play was a production by "Backstage", a Dubai-based drama group made up of a motley crew of engineers, interior designers, property agents and accountants who shed their daytime roles to don theatre masks by night.

Not sure what to expect, we filed in as the doors to the theatre opened. And that was when the horror within unleashed itself. The play hadn't begun yet; they hadn't even mumbled the usual "Ladies-and-gentlemen-welcome-to-the-show-please-switch-off-your-mobile-phones-we-hope-you-enjoy-the-performance" introduction they say in one breath.

It was the whole atmosphere of the place: it was pitch dark, so you had to grope around to find the way to your seat. I thought there was a definite creepy chill in the air, although that might just be the actors getting the AC to be turned down so they didn't feel too hot in their lace-ruffed costumes. A haunting ostinato mournfully punctured the air. But it wasn't just that. As soon as we had walked two metres into the theatre, a... thing leapt out.

She hissed into our shocked faces, swiping a claw-like hand at our necks and withdrawing silently into the depths of the, well, space under the seating area - she was evidently a bride of Dracula. Her face was artfully made up in chalk white, the eyes purple and bruised. Her lips oozed blood, her mouth opened in a snarl to expose razor sharp fangs and her white gown was spattered tastefully with scarlet. Well, it was more of a baby pink, but the best paints fade. I will admit she left me not unfazed. I screamed my lungs out, clutched Diana in fright and tried to do the "Scooby-Doo jump" - you know, when Scooby leaps into Shaggy's arms at the merest mention of a monster. We sat down nervously: a number of brides continued to prowl the aisles, finally malevolently carrying off a member of the audience backstage "to enjoy" amid cackling laughter.

The performance held us spellbound for the next couple of hours. We giggled nervously when Hani Yakan, as Dracula, oozed on to stage and addressed Dr Seward (Cliff Single) and Van Helsing (Rohit Prakash) in a voice as oily as his extensively greased hair. Diana mused a bit, trying to imagine him without fangs and red contacts, and rated him a 9.5 out of 10 on the eligibility scale.

We aww-ed when Sarah Murphy, as poor tragic Lucy, acted out the suffering invalid. Owen Ryan was enthralling as the lunatic Renfield, rolling his eyes and staggering around shouting, while confused, comical Butterworth the butler - Ali Asgar Raja - rushed about trying to lock him back up. The final scene - the staking of Dracula - was gripping enough to ensure that large chunks of my nails had been gnawed off as the applause finally rang out that evening. The audience filed out decidedly having agreed they'd had their money's worth, and more.

And that's all lovely, but in the meantime, I shall be sleeping with the light on and teddy clasped close for the next week or so.

The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai