Posted inCultures

Fusing Past and Present: Dracula Review

Watching Serendipity Productions’ Dracula, your first sight is a thrust stage in motion. Clothes are scattered, a suitcase is laid open and pieces of paper strewn around; alongside the eerie music, the intimate space of the Pilch Theatre leaves you right in the midst of the action. Beyond this minimal yet impactful staging, we are presented with a version of Dracula that juxtaposes old and new. From the antique looking furniture and wallpaper and actors wearing contemporary clothing to sound bites by production manager Fuller of horse hooves accompanied by those of trains, O’Grady’s script, which fuses a dated tale of the past with this present-day visionary, truly comes to life.

Conversations between characters are not tracked by letters, but rather voice notes, and the modern-day issue of mobile reception makes for believably frustrating misunderstandings. There is something uneasy about these voice notes – we are afforded only parts and not wholes of Jonathan’s time with the illusive Dracula.

The energy shifts as Stasiak as Lucy enters the scene, the character and her performance at once a dynamic and vibrant counterpart to the sincere performance by Konko as Mina. Their interactions are natural and easy on the surface, and we later see the longing and frustration within the pair’s complicated relationship. King as Jonathan Harker is painfully poetic, making for an excellent narrator and storyteller. Like Jonathan, the audience is left beguiled by the commanding and calculating presence of Oddie-James’ Dracula. Aside from their incredible costumes – which again capture this fusion of past and present – Oddie-James’ delivery is complex, not simply the bloodthirsty Dracula we have come to know. Under the surface, there lie greater tensions in her performance which, along with Konko’s Mina, draw out these new themes envisioned by O’Grady. Konko shines in scenes with Oddie-James, particularly as she later embodies the mannerisms of Dracula. Female sexuality is probed in O’Grady’s script both through the poignancy of miscommunication and frustration, and the senses of what could have been. It is often in the moments of quiet, of longing and stillness, that these actors truly excel.

Energetic counterparts to the more intense characters are Seward, Arthur, Quincy and Van Helsing. Foster’s vibrant and hilarious performance as Quincy alights the room’s energy the moment he walks in, which is swiftly contrasted by Burles’ quiet and methodical Seward. The tense interactions between Tanner as the sceptical ‘posho’ Arthur and Finch-Robson’s Van Helsing show further contrasts. Finch-Robson’s physical characterisation of the anxious and first perceived rambling mad man that is the vampire hunter is exceptionally embodied and real. Van Helsing cuts moments of tension with a fluctuating accent and on-the-nose one-liners by O’Grady. My particular favourite was ‘Expose your heart to me’, which prompted laughs from the audience. The nuance and physical gesture that Wade’s Renfield brings to her performance is particularly moving. We don’t learn very much of Renfield, but Wade’s complex and studied performance stands out in every scene she is in and must be commended for its level of detail.

The use of different entrances throughout the production adds to the immersive staging. Lighting (also by O’Grady) often hides moments from the audience, as opposed to illuminating them, as we are spared the gory details with inventive use of shadows and silhouettes. What stood out most to me about this production was the theme of longing for exteriority. The claustrophobic staging, Lucy’s acquiescence to the life she feels she has to live, the constant practice of pretending of womanhood – these all allow for O’Grady’s script to capture young adult life, reframed in the backdrop of this classic tale. The audience, like Mina, are left with the presence of the free and unconstrained female Dracula in the foreground of our minds.