For over a century Count Dracula has been part of our popular culture so it’s smart of imitating the dog to make him a peripheral figure in his own play.
Instead, they cleverly switch the focus to Mina Harker who in Bram Stoker’s gothic classic not only had her neck bitten but pulled together all the threads to create the myth of the immortal Transylvanian bloodsucker.
They’ve also updated the story to 1965 as Harker walks into a London police station confessing a murder to two police officers, and we learn that she has used her immortal superhuman power for what she thinks is the greater good as the Count lurks around the piece as the embodiment of eternal darkness.
As usual the team deploys a wide range of high-tech digital tricks, including two video cameras and stage side green screens, to create a live graphic novel projected onto a big screen at the back of the stage. It is a really striking idea that requires huge onstage discipline as the actors often had to contort themselves into strange positions to get the right camera angles, which raised an uneasy titter from those perhaps unfamiliar with this company’s methods.
But this is a serious work, and what is always impressive about imitating the dog is that they never let Simon Wainwright’s innovative projection and video design overpower the story, which Pete Brook and Andrew Quick’s laser targeted direction never loses sight of.
As if having the guts to rethink an enduring classic wasn’t enough, they indulge in some in some fascinating counterfactual thinking as they mull over what would happen if Harker targets a failed Munich painter and a Russian thug to change history, but as Dracula sneers in a wild closing sequence has she really saved any lives, or maybe she has cost them? It’s left for us to decide.
Bradford’s Riana Duce is convincing as the posh young/old woman who thinks if she merely targets a failed Munich painter and a Russian thug that can change history.
Company regular Matt Prendergast is a wonderfully careworn detective trying to make sense of the ever more outlandish claims he is hearing, and Adela Rajinovic’s thoughtful WPC offers strong support as his sparring partner in the drab interview room.
Prendergast and Rajinovic have to work hard concentrating on their endlessly complex positioning as they switch roles, and between four languages, as Harker’s rampage across Europe is revealed in a series of beautifully engineered flashbacks.
This high-tech feminist reimagining of a classic tale does breathe new life into the myth by moving away from the bloodletting to a meditation on whether evil is just part of the human condition, or can it actually be defeated?
Dracula: The Untold History is at Leeds Playhouse until 9th October (to book 0113 2137700) and then touring. https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/dracula-the-untold-story/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 2nd October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★