By Ellie Ward
Halloween is nearly upon us. Pumpkins are waiting to be carved, daylight hours are diminishing with frightening frequency, and on every token costume rail that has sprung up in most corner shops and supermarkets, there swings a pair of plastic, glow in the dark fangs. Of course, these fangs are emblematic of the vampire, one of the most prominent figures in the collection of creatures our culture deems seriously spooky. Just think of the success of the netflix series, “Vampire Diaries” or the well received BBC’s 2008-2013 series “Being Human”, about the lives (or unlives?) of a werewolf, ghost and vampire living in in a flat in Bristol. Perhaps it is unsurprising then to discover that Bronzehead Theatre’s autumnal offering to the York theatre scene is a run of “Dracula” opening on Halloween. However, after sitting down and chatting to two of the actors involved in this piece, Anna Rose James (playing Harker) and Ruth Jamieson (playing Stoker), any fears of a lacklustre or uninspired adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 text were diminished. Bronzehead are selling their production as a “new adaptation”, and James and Jamieson were quick to expand on this claim. Set in the present day, director Tom Straszewski has used the memories, letters and artefacts from Stoker’s original text as clues the modern characters discover in the old and mysterious Carfax house, as they unravel the story of Dracula. As Jamieson testifies, other adaptations have “pick and mixed” whatever they have wanted from Stoker’s original text, whereas Bronzehead has chosen to use the original text without modification, meaning “anyone who has read the book will instantly recognise it”. It is in the novel’s framing as different artefacts to be discovered by new characters that Stoker’s Dracula is reimagined.
Bronzehead theatre have a reputation for their site specific productions. Their sell-out run of Richard II involved the play’s first ever performance at Pontefract Castle, the place of the king’s imprisonment and death, whilst their debut production “Old Haunts”, an interpretation of three medieval ghost stories, were presented in the historic and aptly haunted church of the Holy Trinity, York. What then, is so helpful in setting this production of Dracula in the John Cooper Studios? As Jamieson comments, this space allows for the story to be truly “immersive”, as the audience begin their experience downstairs, having access to “clues” and “tangible things”, creating a real sense that the audience and cast are “discovering this story together”. James adds that therefore the audience will feel “implicated” in the action that unfolds, adding to the chilling nature of the piece.
Reflecting on my initial musings of the symbol of the vampire, I asked James and Jamieson what exactly they thought it was that made Dracula such a terrifying, intriguing, and perhaps more significantly, a long-lasting figure in our culture sphere. As James comments, perhaps it is the seductive nature of an “eternal life” or the “very British” image of an evil enemy, who can and will be defeated by a bunch of do-gooders. Jamieson adds in, however, that Straszewski’s production does not present a one dimensional “Dracula”. In-fact, it is Dracula’s “human aspects” that make him a more terrifying figure, giving him an “unstoppable energy, that people get drawn into”. It seem’s that Bronzehead’s production of Dracula will hit all of the marks: Staying true to Stoker’s chilling original text, whilst offering something new to theatre goers and gothic horror lovers alike, in all of its speculative, mysterious and enigmatic glory.
Dracula will be running at the John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate from 31st October-4 November