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Theatre: Dracula at Seven Arts, Leeds

I went to see this ten days ago with ms_siobhan at Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton. Thinking back, I believe it is the fourth stage adaptation of Dracula which I have seen in my lifetime, with the previous three being as follows:
This was a different adaptation again - this one by John Godber and Jane Thornton, to be precise - and it was by far the truest to Stoker's novel which I have ever seen in any medium. Most of the dialogue was taken directly from the book, with the only real deviations occurring where actions and speech which are reported 'off-stage' (as it were) in the novel were translated into direct speech and action on the stage. Even then, the epistolary format of the original was preserved where possible, for example by showing people receiving and reading out letters from one another.

Obviously, a 1.5-hour stage adaptation couldn't hope to convey the entirety of the novel, though. Quincey Morris was omitted, as he often is, and so were Renfield and two of Draculas' three brides, while Dracula's journey on the Demeter was reported only from the point of view of Whitby residents after he had arrived. But other than that, both the language and the spirit of the novel were really well preserved, mainly thanks to a clever impressionistic approach used for some of the wider sweeps of the narrative. For example, the opening scenes in which Jonathan Harker travels to Dracula's castle were not played out in full, but instead conveyed by a sort of montage of key words and phrases spoken by cast members standing in a line on the stage - "Welcome to Transylvania"; "Please - for your mother's sake"; "For the dead travel fast"; and so on. All instantly recognisable and highly evocative, yet sketched out lightly and efficiently so that we could get on to the more detailed scenes set in the castle. On the whole, I think you would struggle to find a better translation of novel to stage than this one, although I had one small regret about it, which was that some of Mina's stronger scenes (e.g. where she takes the lead in gathering and sorting through all the records for the group of vampire-hunters) had dropped out, so that she lost some of her agency as a result.

The production itself was an amateur one, and we saw it on its opening night, but it was pretty good when judged on those terms. We were particularly impressed by the people playing Dr. Seward and the sole vampire bride (who also doubled-up as the maid who removes the garlic flowers from Lucy's room, thus creating nice extra layers to the narrative, since of course the maid would be helping Dracula if she is also his consort in disguise!). The rest of the cast were all perfectly solid, though we weren't so convinced by the decision to cast the same person as both Jonathan Harker and Arthur Holmwood, since it meant he was both Mina's husband and Lucy's fiancé, which had unintended resonances, and besides his chemistry as Arthur with Lucy was completely non-existent, so that when Van Helsing instructed him to kiss her it seemed more like a reluctant school-boy kissing his aunt than the impassioned kiss of a concerned lover. As for Dracula - well, it's a difficult role to play without slipping into pantomime, especially on stage where you cannot be as subtle as on film; he could have been better served by both the costume and the make-up departments; and we weren't sure the decision to have him speaking in a mock-Eastern European accent, or laughing maniacally from time to time was well-advised. But at least it looked like he was enjoying his evil machinations, and he definitely came across well when he got the chance to confront the band of vampire-hunters directly, and hurl some proper scorn and disdain in their general direction.

I think ms_siobhan was probably right to observe that £10 is a bit steep for amateur theatre, even in this inflated day and age, and on such a hot summer night I could have done with an interval and a long cool drink half-way through. But then again, they pulled in a good audience, filling about 80% of the seats I think, so I guess they had judged their price point about right. Anyway, a good bit of Draculising is always worth leaving the house for, and I would definitely show up for a performance of this particular adaptation again.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Aug. 7th, 2014 07:27 am (UTC)
Am loving the word 'Draculising' :-)

And if the Count had had a cummerband it would have made a world of difference and Lucy not such a strong tan....excellent screaming though.
strange_complex
Aug. 7th, 2014 07:58 am (UTC)
You say 'strong tan', I say 'large pot of bronzing powder'... ;-)

But yes, some great screaming all round.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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