It takes some self belief to decide to take on a novel like Dracula. It’s one of only a few novels that have remained in print since its publishing in 1896, and it is undeniably well covered in all areas of the media. It’s precedency makes it virtually impossible to do something original without widespread plagiarism. To a certain extent, this production was successful in that. It did everything it set out to do, but in all honesty, it didn’t do a whole lot more.
Generally, Dracula isn’t a piece that was designed for the theatre. It’s so reliant on its sprawling locations across Europe that detaching it from this leaves it feeling empty. If this wasn’t challenging enough, the narrative is structured from a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper articles compiled to resemble a portfolio – the jumps in time and location are hard to navigate at best. In some ways, this was handled well. Through some rearrangement and relatively innovative staging, the creative team managed (more or less) to cover the entirety of a very long and complex story. Sadly, the upshot of this was that most of Bram Stoker’s world building was lost, given that the original novel depends on its often epic locations.
It would be a challenge to not comment on the widespread flaws in how the text was brought to the stage. Arguably, the most jarring of these was the insistence on Dracula himself spending his final monologue on trying to sell feminism to Mina. It made a vague kind of sense, but, given that this is the same character who has spent the rest of the play murdering and pursuing our protagonists, it is more than hard to buy into. I also couldn’t disregard that this slightly uninvited angle was very difficult to accept when Dracula is sexually violent towards every single female character. On the other hand, having a woman (Cornelia Baumann) play Renfield does rebalance the cast a little, suggesting that the playwright’s (Ross McGregor) intentions are in the right place.
Additionally, there are a few moments when the dialogue crosses from the (somewhat) believable into pantomime. At points it is hard to discern whether these are coming from the script or if they are improvised, but they didn’t sit well with me. For example, it seems a little incongruous that Dracula, an ancient and intelligent creature, could nearly let slip his intentions in every other sentence. I’m fairly sure that they are intended to relieve some of the built up tension, but in my experience it just hinders any suspension of disbelief. Overall, Dracula is enjoyable to watch, but once you dig a little below the surface, it becomes troublesome.
Dracula is playing Jack Studio Theatre until 27/10/18. For more information and tickets, see here.