Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning

Oct 12 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Angry

Festival Theatre: Wed 11 – Sat 14 Oct2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

You can’t keep a good vampire down for long, and the story of Dracula keeps coming back to the stage, with its depictions of transgressive behaviour making it a constant candidate for reinvention.

The uneven but ultimately rewarding Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning – from the National Theatre of Scotland and Aberdeen Performing Arts in association with Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – is the latest version.

A balcony on the set, Lucy is crouched down while Mina stands and looks over the railing. They are both smiling at something in the distance.

Ailsa Davidson and Danielle Jam. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The altered title of Morna Pearson’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s evergreen 1897 tale (which surely needs no introduction) suggests a wholesale rewrite. Instead, the basic narrative sticks closely to the original – with some hugely significant exceptions.

This fidelity extends to the epistolary nature of the novel, with the events being related through letters and journals. This makes for some rather slow exposition before the interval, even with the focus shifted from lawyer Jonathan Harker to Mina, who here is certainly not content with her position in the book as Harker’s fiance.

versatile and vigorous Doric

Pearson has moved the non-Transylvanian sections to the North-East of Scotland, an area already much associated with the story’s genesis, with scenes in the ‘Aberdeen Asylum for Women’ used as a framing device. This leads to the use of a versatile and vigorous Doric, which gives a power and immediacy to the dialogue.

This is done justice by an excellent ensemble made up of female and non-binary actors. Danielle Jam’s Mina is a tremendous central performance, fizzing with anger and intelligence. Liz Kettle is a luminous Dracula, with flowing hair and Nosferatu fingers, apparently appearing and disappearing at will and seeming to glide across the stage.

Mina sits reading a book, another on her lap. She is surrounded by red light.

Danielle Jam. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The character of Lucy, who is the Count’s early victim, is often sidelined, but here she is admirably fleshed out by Ailsa Davidson. The restrictions placed on women such as Mina and Lucy by contemporary medical thought are represented by Maggie Bain’s pompous Dr Seward, a performance which – like Catriona Faint’s Jonathan – has enough realism alongside the bitter humour to remind us that such treatment is not just a thing of the past.

The character of the Count’s insect-guzzling minion Renfield has often been the most interesting in adaptations of Dracula. Here, it is made clear that their incarceration is down to nothing more than being unwilling to conform to Victorian standards of morality. Ros Watt’s performance is measured and, in many ways, the play’s most frightening.

examination of the patriarchy

A top-notch cast is completed by Natalie Arle-Toyne as an expansive Van Helsing and the ever-excellent Anne Lacey as Mr Swails.

The doubling of the performers as inhabitants of the ‘Asylum’ is done elegantly and helps to reinforce the play’s examination of the patriarchy. Thematically, the departures from the original make sense, but in terms of the narrative they sit decidedly awkwardly. Perhaps a more concerted attempt to leave the novel behind might have made sense, particularly in that long first act that gives the production a lop-sided feel.

The asylum patients stand on the set, on multiple different levels, they are all looking at something opposite them.

Natalie Arle-Toyne, Ros Watt, Catriona Faint, Maggie Bain, Ailsa Davidson and Anne Lacey. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

This is not helped by the (at times stately) pace. The direction of Sally Cookson (also credited as co-creator of the piece with Pearson) is assured but often on the sedate side. Vicky Manderson’s movement direction, similarly, is effective but slows things down further.

Benji Bower’s music is atmospheric, but at times the sound design overwhelms the dialogue. The recent tiresome insistence on stage productions aping film horror through sudden loud noises in an attempt to create jump scares is also much in evidence.

politically-charged anger

No problems with Kenneth MacLeod’s set, all platforms and craggy walls, lit phantasmagorically by Aideen Malone and providing a marvellous backdrop for Lewis den Hertog’s video design.

The overall feeling is one of politically-charged anger rather than outright horror, but it remains atmospheric nevertheless, and the staging and performances make for a gripping spectacle.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson St St, EH8 9FT
Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 October 2023
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Belgrade Theatre, Belgrade Square, Coventry, CV1 1GS
Wed 18 – Sat 21 October 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mats Thurs, Sat: 2pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Liverpool Playhouse, Williamson Square, Liverpool L1 1EL
Tue 24 – Sat 28 Oct 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mats: 1.30 (Thurs), 2pm (Sat).
Tickets and details: Book here.

A dark stage with an eerie blue light illuminating Dracula as they prepare to feast on a lifeless Lucy.

Liz Kettle and Ailsa Davidson. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic


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