Edinburgh Fringe 2010
There have been more adaptations of this particular vampire myth than the Count himself has had hot virgins. Indeed, about the only stage version in recent years to have escaped with any dignity came from Liz Lochead’s beautifully poetical version, which took great pains to distance itself from the campy clichés of flapping rubber bats and cod-Hungarian accents. But even that can be bludgeoned under unimaginative direction. Any new production of Dracula has to recognise that something new and special has to be created to make anyone who’s long in the tooth sit up and take notice.
This is C Soco as Bedlam – not the venue near the Udderbelly, but the infamous mental asylum (which might be considered entirely appropriate at this late stage in the fringe). Doctor Seward engages with his patients, striving to return them to some kind of sanity through an early form of cognitive therapy, which forms the narrative of the piece. He walks through his wards, demanding that his charges re-enact the events that are familiar to us from the classic novel, characters calling out ‘re-enactment’ at appropriate points in the play, producing a Pavlovian response in the patients, as they fall to play certain characters (although it’s not always certain who’s meant to represent who, and, indeed, Lucy’s lines swap from one actress to another during the evening).
So, there’s a gaggle of attractive young students in Victorian undergarments and not much else, screaming, wailing, and writhing around in the dust. And while it’s true that that’s pretty much par for the course in any fringe, and we probably start telling drama students up and down the country that this sort of thing isn’t particularly revolutionary, this is a well directed and consummately cast. It’s worth mentioning the other, silent cast member: the venue itself, which, through it’s beautifully grimy and exposed walls, with battered and peeling doors hanging from hinges, is very much a brooding and foreboding presence.
The real masterstroke here is that the titular character is almost never seen, and, following a request for the in-mates sanity, his name is never mentioned -except that it is, once, which is a pity – the power would have increased a great deal if Dracula, both in name and physical appearance, had been entirely absent.
This certainly would have worked better as a promenade piece – it seems that the seating is meant to represent a viewing gallery as the good Doctor Seward talks about his work, but it seems that the fact that it is not promenade is a singularly missed opportunity for this particular piece.
While not every character is clear to spot, Renfield comes across as, ironically, quite sane, and the pillar of this particular society – if for no other reason than the fact that he spends most of the evening bound to an actual pillar, around which there is some lovely movement work, particular when the Dementer washes up at Whitby, and a very impressive moment when a character scales pillars at a ninety degree angle.
However, the story is sometimes incoherent – if you’re going to be as audacious with the adaptation as this is, then you’re required to have your script serve another purpose, rather than simply repeating the lines from the text you’re adapting, and,
after all, there is only such much wailing and gnashing of teeth that you can stand – even within the context of a madhouse. However, this is a superior adaptation of Dracula, if occasionally guilty of style over content.