This stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written in 1989 by Liz Lochhead. It modernises Dracula, deviating little from the original plot but simultaneously creating a more liberal and familiar narrative along with a constant on-stage raconteur in the form of Renfield. By exploring the tale in a more intimate fashion, Lochhead ensures an up-to-date interpretation of source material whose success lies in the subversion of the cultural norms of the time; most notably desire, corruption and the supernatural.
Directed by Pheadra Florou and featuring a strong cast of seasoned members, Bath University Student Theatre have attempted to reclaim the spirit of the true vampire and break the stereotype of the chaste, moody teenage vamp which has evolved phenomenally over the past few years.
Starting off strong, we are ushered into the script by a distraught Adriano Howlett playing the clinically delusional, confined Renfield. With a detached, narcissistic air interspaced with intense, lucid rationality, he perfectly grasps the key aspects of his role both as a literary mule for Dracula’s power as well as a quasi-Greek chorus. This is perfectly counterpointed with Andy Massey’s straight talking, painfully English Dr. Arthur Seward, who manages to depict the patient-doctor relationship wonderfully. Throughout his scenes with Renfield and, later on, during scenes with his sick lover and fiancée Lucy Westerman, there is tangible character integrity as the struggle between professionalism and personal affect comes to a point. Further cast member introductions come as we meet Mina and Lucy Westerman, played by Lex Bradshaw and Sarah Bridge respectively. The sisters are found discussing their lovers, marriage prospects and engaging in sisterly banter with strong, natural back-and-forth. Both Lex and Sarah play their roles with elegance and poise; Mina’s down-to-earth demeanour beautifully portrayed by Bradshaw while Bridge offers her well-rehearsed ethereal character whose idiosyncrasies translate seamlessly into vampirism.
No matter the strength of the individual performances, there are aspects of this adaptation which fall short. Many of these fall within the script itself – Lochhead’s Dracula, though a reputable adaptation of very thick literature, is a mammoth of a play. With 30 plus scenes and a biblical running time, the script remains largely true to the source with few deviations, but suffers from long scenes, awkward monologues and forced exposition to ensure audience complicity. Additionally, consciously obdurate monologues consign other on-stage characters to motionless bystanders which removes a significant proportion of flow from the performance. Moreover there is a loss of suspense – a cornerstone of the horror genre, especially for material produced in the 1890s – from some lengthy scene changes and poor pacing from the script.
The performance could have benefitted greatly from some audience-aware editing. Around 45 minutes could have been lost with little impact on the plot and, perhaps, some of the more cringe-worthy (though Stoker-originated) aspects of Hammer Vampirism could have been removed – I’m looking at you, garlic and stakes. As BUST picked up this script rather late, however, following licencing issues with an intended performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, a comprehensive edit may have been a large ask.
Overall Dracula was a solid performance with some fantastic characterisations, mired by a rather unwieldy script. Although those leaving this performance may not have been blown away it fills me with great hope for the future, highlighting the real talent BUST has within its ranks.