THERE is much to admire in the Creation Theatre’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic tale Dracula.
Creatively, the decision to take the play to the London Library, situated in an unobtrusive corner of St James’s Square, is a stroke of genius. The library, a hidden treasure, is where Stoker did a lot of his research for the book. It is the first time the venue – normally a place of quiet study – has been used for the performing arts and I hope it will not be the last. For once, no admonishing shushes from librarians. Instead, booming sounds, thunder cracks and enough strobe lighting to get disco lovers boogying in their seats.
Set in the library’s basement reading room, and framed by shelves jam-packed with books, the play – written by the talented Kate Kerrow – revolves around Jonathan Harker (Bart Lambert) and his wife Mina (Sophie Greenham).
Jonathan’s state of mind has not been the same since he returned from Transylvania to visit Count Dracula – and encountered rather more than he bargained for. Mina, a simmering cauldron of sexual frustration, is meanwhile grieving over the mysterious death of her friend Lucy. Mina is the dominant force in the Harker’s relationship. Jonathan, meek and mild. Mina, all get up and go.
Together in Whitby to go through Lucy’s belongings (the library being Lucy’s library), we then begin to learn – through a multitude of flashbacks – the reasons behind Jonathan’s fragility.
Slowly, the key characters in Stoker’s novel, bar the main one, are all introduced. Lucy, Doctor John Seward and his teacher Abraham Van Helsing (a slayer of vampires) and the barking mad Renfield (a patient of Seward’s who is prone to eating all living forms, be they insects or birds). Characters all played by either Lambert or Greenham.
Mischievously, Kerrow has Greenham play Seward, while Renfield is played by both (best not to have a drink beforehand).
Back and forth the play goes like a giant swing and slowly the jigsaw comes together. On occasion, it is all a little confusing although the two actors move effortlessly from one character to another and then back again. Impressive, bloody impressive. Cool heads on young shoulders. Storm clouds, bats and a set of red eyes – all projected on to two screens – suggest that Dracula is never far away from the Harkers.
Although those coming to the play without first swotting up on Stoker’s novel (a mere 400 pages in length) may leave somewhat baffled, there is plenty in this clever production to compensate. For a start the venue is worth the ticket price alone.
Then there is the versatility of Lambert and Green, plus some stunning audio-visual work from Eva Auster and thunderous sounds from Matt Eaton. The images of a young child running away from a blood thirsty Lucy, projected onto one of the room’s pillars, are particularly effective and striking.
Dracula is a play that both challenges convention and is challenging. Directed by Helen Tennison, this is an innovative production from a bold writer and a theatre company that is not frightened to perform where it feels it is right to do so – a museum, car park, shopping centre or a 178 year-old library. Turning convention upside down and inside out.
Quite refreshing, like the blood that the good Count and his vampires sought so avariciously.
See Dracula at the London Library