By Bram Stoker Adapted by Liz Lochhead Directed by Mary Papadima Presented by Theatre by the Lake on 17 September 2014
Desire and terror abound in this spine-tingling, sensual dramatisation of Bram Stoker’s famed Gothic novel. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help a mysterious Count with the purchase of a new property, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents start to unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby, strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the looming arrival of his ‘Master’. Explore your darkest dreams with one of the greatest horror stories ever told.
A simple set design proved very effective in evoking the various locations: the black and grey stepped boxes curved across the stage became the cliffs at Whitby or the crenellations of Count Dracula’s castle or the steps to his front door; the rear white curtain served as a projection screen for shadowy effects or films of packs of wolves; a central slab could be raised to form a sick bed or an autopsy table or a sacrificial altar and lowered to form a grave. The story is itself of little interest and this adaptation does little to draw out the really interesting questions: What is it about our minds that makes us superstitious? What are the Darwinian forces that shape male and female mating strategies? Why do we find the idea of a non-material soul so powerful? And why do intellectual charlatans persist in reminding us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our psychology?
Mina is having to wait till she’s 25 to get married to Jonathan Harker. Lucy is jealous of her sister’s matrimonial plans and naturally wants a bite of the action herself. Part of her strategy is a “tighter waist” (if you’re female, the waist-to-hip ratio is one way of advertising your fertility). Of course, this being the Victorian age her energy can only be expressed in passive terms:I wish something was going to happen to me.She’s not the only one in a cage, although not literally like poor Renfield, who’s hanging upside down like a bat inside an enormous bird cage. He eats flies and has strange ideas:
My master that I worship.
A silhouette of Dracula flutters in the background, with elongated fingers cleverly created by the optics.
Dr Seward is the man of science and reason who believes madness is “a complex imbalance of chemicals in the brain.” No room for the soul or any of that nonsense. He’s right, pretty much, although the metaphor of “balance” is not always that helpful. A bit low on serotonin? Pop these pills to adjust the level and you’ll be right as rain. It’s rarely as simple as that, even for 21st-century medicine.
He also doesn’t always have the best nursing care on hand. The “boot-faced nurses with bad breath” are a world away
from the character of Terry in SL. Grice and Nisbett are a kind of Jeckyll and Hyde double act, played by Katie Hayes
(who is certainly not boot-faced and surely doesn’t have bad breath). I forget which is which, but one of the first
orders she gives is:Kick the crap out of him.
Renfield’s philosophy is:If it moves, eat it.We’ve already seen him hoovering up flies, and now he crunches the head of
Like the two sisters in COE, Mina and Lucy (also played by Cate Cammack and Jennifer English) are like chalk and
cheese. Unlike the two sisters in Errors, however, any characterization tends to be lost beneath the layer of “girlish
hysteria” that is daubed across Lucy and is meant to account for her waywardness.
Harker embarks on his business trip to Romania. Dracula welcomes him to his “destiny” and Harker corrects his
English:You mean destination.Matthew Vaughan is a stooping figure and a swooping one with his big flowing cloak, and
manages to keep his thick accent just this side of parody. He informs Harker that the people of his country are very
superstitious, and that the land is a “whirlpool of blood” after centuries of war. The ever hopeful Harker looks
towards the 20th century, when war will be a thing of the past. The odd thing is that this is not all that laughable:
he was monumentally wrong about the first half of the 20th century, but the second half began an unprecedented era of
peace between the great powers.
Dracula really doesn’t like crucifixes, but then neither did Ian Paisley, nor the millions of Protestants who broke
away from Catholicism after the Reformation. Still, there is definitely something odd about his way of putting things.
He wants to talk with the upright young Harker, to improve his English:To drink in your every — word.
Renfield has his own playful way with words, repeating “screw loose” over and over until it begins to sound like
“screw Lucy.” Lucy is, meanwhile, coping with her own issues. She has what sounds like an out-of-body experience,
since she describes her soul floating outside of her body. Florrie tries to calm her:Bogeys are all kinds of things
except bogeys.She is admirably rational in recognizing that the mind is capable of creating all kinds of monsters. On a
more down-to-earth subject, Lucy wants to know:What’s it like?Florrie is momentarily nonplussed by such a direct,
intimate question, but she has an excellent reply:Very strange, and very ordinary.A conclusion that has recently been
scientifically verified by this DM report.
Nurse Grice (or is it Nurse Nisbett?) has no truck with the religious ones who come under her care (or boot):
I would rather have ten Napoleons or three Cleopatras than one Jesus Christ Almighty.
Van Helsing comes on the scene with his continental ways and with his pompous “I have wrestled with Arthur’s unbelief” line. Seward is still insisting — the silly rational man — that there’s no such thing as the soul. Harker knows better, since he’s seen things with his own eyes, and we all know that there’s nothing more reliable than personal eyewitness testimony (see Loftus 1996). Elizabeth Loftus would probably side with Seward over Van Helsing, especially when he gets out his pocket watch:
You will remember everything! I will take you back to a dark place…
He appears to have bought into hypnotic regression, without the slightest understanding of how memory really works, how false memories can be created unwittingly by therapists, and how the whole business of blood-sucking vampires is a load of old toss.
Poor Seward — a man of science “crawling among the cobwebs” — is of the opinion that vampires exist where men believe them to exist, and that they have no objective reality. Unfortunately, there’s enough reality to Dracula’s power that he ends up a sacrificial victim, so that Harker and Mina survive to enjoy their wedded bliss.