Nobody ever accused imitating the dog of not being ambitious but in Dracula: The Untold Story they are taking on one of the world’s biggest cultural icons.
Typically, they are twisting the timeless classic to look at the Transylvanian prince of the undead from a totally new perspective. As well as the usual innovative visuals they have become famous for over the last two decades this co-production with Leeds Playhouse will use the stage to create a live graphic novel.
Our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke spoke to imitating the dog’s co-artistic director Andrew Quick to find how they are reimagining Bram Stoker’s classic tale of Count Dracula’s bloodlust.
This might be your biggest challenge as Dracula is such an iconic figure to virtually everyone on the planet.
You’re right, it’s a very familiar story, and there have been adaptations in film, books, opera so it’s a very well-known narrative. Our take is looking at the figure of Nina Harker and telling her story. In the novel she is forced to drink Dracula’s blood, and he wants to turn her into a vampire, then he’s killed, and you assume she is alright.
So, what is your twist on this classic tale?
Our version is taking that assumption and challenging it slightly, we focus on the end of the novel and Nina’s life after Dracula. She continues to fight evil in the early part of the twentieth century, and she turns up in a police station in 1965 when she would normally be in her eighties but is still a young woman. Obviously, something happened to her, and she confesses to a policeman and woman what she’s been up to.
And how is that realised live?
In terms of our staging, we are really trying to blend the theatre show with the graphic novel, so that’s our other twist in It. It’s almost like a superhero graphic novel style.
Can people expect a classic imitating the dog assault on the senses?
It’s very visual and has three cameras. There’s a big wall which acts as a screen, and on that wall is projected the story, and our actors are live fed into that wall like a graphic novel. It’s got a big soundtrack, so it feels like you’re in a cross between a film, a graphic novel and theatre piece.
How has the pandemic affected your rehearsals?
The first months of rehearsals were at Leeds Playhouse and quite rightly they were pretty strict, so we stuck to the two-metre rule, social distancing onstage and wearing masks. Everything was wiped down and that’s part of the reason we’ve made the show as we’ve made it.
How have you worked in the need to protect the creatives working on the show?
Each actor has their own zone and then you create intimacy through the technology by projecting people as they are on the stage, but on the film playing behind them they look very close. It’s been made for the COVID pandemic.
There seems to be a small but growing movement to tell classic Victorian novels from the perspective of often underwritten female characters. Pitlochry Festival Theatre did it with Jekyll recently, and this time Nina takes centre stage.
When you’re making work, you don’t want to repeat what people have done before and you are always looking for new angles. There’s definitely an imperative to find something new in a text as well ploughed as Dracula. What is interesting about Dracula is it’s not written as a straightforward narrative and Nina Harker put it all together. She’s been a kind of secretary and researcher who managed all the material that is then placed in sequence to tell the story.
So, in your version you take this minor character in a novel that has really stood the test of time and tell the story from her point of view?
Bram Stoker is really interesting as he’s the author and in the mythos of the novels she is the author, narrated it and amassed all the information. She is a kind of a hidden character in the novel, which we got really interested in, and if she is the person who put it all together what was she really up to? Did she cover things up and did they get changed?
So how does that play out in your reimagining of Whitby’s most famous visitor?
In our version within the graphic novel Dracula isn’t a literary figure, it really happened. What we find out in our version is what her relationship to Dracula was and what her role was in that whole story. We are interested in the minor characters and the people on the edge.
Dracula: The Untold Story opens at Leeds Playhouse on Saturday 25th September until Saturday 9th October (to book 0113 213 7700) and then touring https://www.imitatingthedog.co.uk/dates/