‘Dracula’ is the 1897 Gothic horror classic written by Dublin-born playwright, Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker. This stage version was adapted from the book in 1980 by Richard Sharp, a Los Angeles based writer, publisher and theatre director.
The name Dracula was derived from the Romanian word ‘dracul’ which means ‘the dragon’. Although Stoker’s book (six shillings a copy) was copyrighted in 1899, whilst buying the film rights Universal Studios discovered that the original copyright had not been registered properly and Stoker lost all future income from the book. In desperation, he sold his original handwritten script at Sotheby’s Auction and got a mere $4, about $400 today. Wisely, Stoker wrote the stage adaptation and produced it for one night only, thus confirming his copyright on any stage productions. When he died in 1912, the Berne Convention gave his widow the book copyright for another 50 years.
By drafting his story as an epistolary novel – a collection of letters and diary entries – Stoker has given a genuine reality to the 6-month tale.
In 1901, Dracula was translated into Icelandic by Valdimar Ásmundsson, with a preface written by Stoker. Not until 2014 was it noticed that the Icelandic translation differed significantly from Stoker’s version of Dracula. The characters had different names, the book was shorter and there was more emphasis on sex than in the English version.
This two-and-a-half-hour adult production that you really can sink your teeth into, is being staged for three nights only by Fremantle Performing Artists, at the Koorliny Arts Centre, 10 Hutchins Way – 1 Sulphur Road, Kwinana.
For the health and safety of the actors, the curtain rises after just after the sun has set at 7.30 pm on Thursday 8th, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th April. Please leave your garlic cloves at home.
There is one matinée at 2.30 on SATURDAY (not Sunday as usual – imagine Dracula coming out on Sunday!).
WARNING: Some scenes may frighten children. There were some ten-year-olds in the audience but they had obviously been well informed of the storyline in advance and were engrossed.
The Scene: 1890 in the fishing village of Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast. Count Dracula’s Transylvanian castle.
The Set: Five limestone arches spanned the rear wall. They acted as windows, tunnels and cells for the captive Nosferatu (from the ancient Rumanian word for a vampire). On the left apron was Van Helsing’s home office with a desk, leather chair and full bookshelves. The set up was most authentic, versatile and worked well.
Lighting design (Jon Lambert and Jason Jones) was excellent. The floodlight colour tints were blues, green and golden yellow, correct for the mood. The main action was carefully picked out with warm spotlights; however, the general background was far too bright. The stage was perfectly lit as for a musical or home scene, but the atmosphere was supposed to be creepy and the background lighting should have been much (50%?) dimmer. As a scene ended and the lights dimmed the stage went through the ideal setting.
Soundscape (Jon Lambert) was one of the best I have heard in years. There were dozens of chilling effects and disturbing sounds, all perfectly recorded and mixed. Superb work.
Special effects. Thomas Hynes had mist – just the right level – descending from the lighting grid. The main smoke machine was fully in view in the wings. Recently I saw a piece of 120 mm diameter, black flexible garden hose fixed to a machine allowing it to be out of sight. There was a clever trick with the drinking flagon.
Stage management was supervised by Jason Jones and his assistant stage manager Dennis Sing. The cast did most of the scene shifting.
A young, newly qualified barrister, Jonathon Harker (Nicholas Walsh), is sent to a gloomy castle in the Carpathian Mountains to help Count Dracula (Ashvath Singh Kunadi – fantastic) purchase a house near London. Although being centuries old, Count Dracula has retained his youth by drinking the fresh blood of young Romanians, now he wants to try English blood.
On arrival, Harker struggles to push his metal trunk. Dracula arrives and picks it up with one hand and walks off. Harker wanders the castle and encounters three Nosferatu women – the Brides of Dracula (Jessica Huysing, Codey Finlay, Jessica Patrick): Before long, Harker is imprisoned by the undead vampire. He falls in love with Mina Murray (Amy Chatley, understudy Jessica Huysing) and they become engaged.
Dracula and two of his Nosferatu henchmen (Joe Teakle, Alyssa Yates) stalk both Harker’s fiancée, Mina and her best friend, Lucy Westenra (Pyper Stancer). Dracula begins a reign of seduction and terror.
After a deadly kiss on the neck, Harker realises that he too is now a vampire, but he escapes with his life, ending up delirious in a Budapest hospital. Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Andrew O’Connell), who has been researching vampires for almost six decades, meets up with John Seward (Lincoln Hitchcock) a doctor from the local asylum. They decide that Dracula and his Brides are the biggest threat to the general public and must be destroyed before it is too late. A madman in the asylum is another doctor, Renfield (James Buckland) who is a sad mess of a man.
An animal resembling a large dog is seen leaping ashore when the ship runs aground at Whitby.
With Crucifix, mallet and stake in hands can our heroes save the women and themselves?
Director Brenton Foale and his Assistant Director Jason Jones have the cast extremely well-rehearsed. The cast interacted well and used their whole bodies to display their fear. A small point for the actors; if you cannot see the audience with both eyes individually, then they will not be able to hear you because of the ability of the black drapes in the wings to absorb sound, you must speak twice as loudly when facing to the rear or wings of the stage.
Many of the cast came from the Fremantle Performing Artists, they will be accustomed to performing in their rehearsal halls. Being in a large theatre like Koorliny is a new challenge. Good solid performances by all.
The wardrobe mistress, Pyper Stancer, produced wine-coloured, hooded monks’ habits for the Nosferatu. With the makeup section, Pyper created an elderly but exotically styled outfit for Dracula to wear before he supped blood, with a regal silk, red waistcoat and white trousers after his zoophagial repast.
The fine and inventive makeup by Amy Chatley (self-taught over the years) and Thomas Hynes included pale faces with dark shadows around the eyes for the castle visitors. A couple of the Nosferatu had strange noses. After years of being locked up, Benfield’s face is covered in boils and scabs. When we first met him, he was eating flies.
The Covid limitation of on 75% occupied seats still applies.
Horror or tension is one of the most difficult genres to present in the theatre. The Fremantle Performing Artists maintained the tension convincingly throughout. I certainly winced a couple of times. With a horror scene it can be easy to over act and ruin the atmosphere, this cast had just the right delivery throughout. The audience sat in silence with no fidgeting – mesmerised.
I look forward to their next production – another creepy thriller – ‘Wait Until Dark’.