London Library – until 3 March 2019
There is a danger in taking well-known and beloved works of literature and adapting them for stage or screen – just ask Sarah Phelps, who recently bore the brunt of conservative Agatha Christie fans’ ire for not simply re-creating previous screen versions of her chosen stories. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of my favourite novels of all time: I read it at a fairly young age and vividly remember completing various creative writing exercises as part of my schoolwork, using both the story and the format of the book as a basis. So the prospect of a new stage adaptation – featuring just two actors – was an intriguing one; Kate Kerrow has written this new version for Creation Theatre, which is directed by Helen Tennison.
Mina Harker has just started to undergo some therapy, following the traumatic loss of her best friend Lucy; her new husband, Jonathan, has recently returned from a business trip – but he is distant & secretive, and the connection between the couple doesn’t feel as strong as it once was. Through Mina’s therapy sessions and her time spent at Lucy’s old house in Whitby (sorting through her possessions with reluctant help from Jonathan), the story of the mysterious Transylvanian Count is gradually uncovered – as well as the unexpected consequences of him coming into their lives…
In the novel, the story is told in a slightly idiosyncratic fashion; letters and diary entries supply the full details, the sources (and, therefore, narrators) being a variety of the protagonists. Kerrow’s play manages to emulate this in some ways, with journal entries being read and recordings being played – it also skips between the different threads of the story, building up the full picture as we learn more about each character.
The only sections that don’t quite seem to fit in this version are those featuring Renfield in the asylum – it is almost like he’s been retained just because he features in the book, but his presence hasn’t been fully integrated into the plot. Occasionally the transitions between characters are a little confusing, but eventually things settle down. It could potentially run straight through, as the interval disrupts the pace a bit just as it really gets going.
The production is set in the early 20th century rather than the 1890s, as it was originally written to be performed in Blackwell’s in Oxford – it also opens up the psychoanalysis angle for Mina, as this area was slightly more developed by the time the 1950s came around.
Ryan Dawson Laight’s design encapsulates this era perfectly; Eva Auster’s video design is ingeniously done, and – along with Ashley Bale’s lighting design – enhances the storytelling and accentuates the aspects of horror in the tale. Bringing this production to the London Library is something of a masterstroke, as Bram Stoker himself was a member and likely used the collection as a reference when writing Dracula – and the historic feel to the surroundings also adds that extra bit of magic.
Bart Lambert and Sophie Greenham take on the task of bringing this multitude of characters to life, with great success. They work fantastically well together to create a range of pairings; aside from one confusing (and, as far as I could tell, unexplained) moment late on, they each take on set roles and stick to them throughout – there are just enough cues in either costume or personification to differentiate between them. It’s as Jonathan & Mina that they shine brightest, convincingly portraying a long-term relationship that is becoming more distant, each hinting at the dark future that lies ahead.
Photo credit: Richard Budd
My verdict? A new adaptation of the classic story that hints at a darker future, performed brilliantly by a cast of two – the historic surroundings of the London Library adds an extra bit of magic to proceedings.
Dracula runs at the London Library until 3 March 2019. Tickets are available online.
Tags: Ashley Bale, Bart Lambert, Bram Stoker, Creation Theatre, Dracula, Eva Auster, Helen Tennison, Kate Kerrow, London, London Library, review, Ryan Dawson Laight, Sarah Phelps, Sophie Greenham, theatre, West EndCategories: all posts, review, theatre
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