Review: Dracula at the Shaw Festival

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So…Dracula. I don’t know much about theatrical adaptations of the work. Everything I know about it either comes from the original Bram Stoker book or from the countless film adaptations, which—let’s be honest—don’t exactly have an amazing track record of book faithfulness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As an epistolary story, it would be hard to get everything in and still have it progress at a decent pace.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I think a lot of the issues I had with the theatrical interpretation of Dracula had a lot to do with my knowledge of the book and my own expectations of what an adaptation should look like.

According to the program, this version of Dracula was created in the 80s by Liz Lochhead. It was praised by The Guardian as a “…powerful and poetic version–shrugs off all those fanged Hammer spoofs and restores real tragedy to Bram Stoker’s tale” which is certainly true. It is far removed from some of the more outlandish adaptations of Dracula and its characters. Though the characters are changed, the overall story remains the same, and it is a very good story.

I think what threw me off the most initially were the changes to the characters—Mina and Lucy are related, Quincey Morris is only mentioned by name but never actually shows up, and there is the addition of the servant Florrie which changes up some of the dynamics I was expecting. That being said, all the performances were amazing and I didn’t leave the theatre disappointed in any particular character. The standout has to be Renfield though. Played by Graeme Somerville, poor Renfield was probably one of the most sympathetic portrayals I’ve seen, and his rambling (and at one point singing!) was just amazing. When he was on stage, your eyes were glued to him.

The overall atmosphere was another thing that really stood out to me. Using different projections as backgrounds gave everything an eerie, supernatural feel to it that I really enjoyed. Everything from projecting wolves’ eyes watching over the characters to swirling blood drops really helped to set the mood.

The focus on sexuality, especially female sexuality, was a huge aspect of this adaptation, which the English major in me really enjoyed. There was a lot of talk of what was proper, of men spending the night, of who “wanted” who. Hell, the play ends with a make out session, complete with rose petals falling from the sky. The actual Shaw Festival website even says this was the intention:

“Liz Lochhead’s stunning version of Bram Stoker’s Gothic thriller is all about repressed erotic hunger: in Victorian England, men are as terrified of female desire as they are of blood-sucking vampires.”

Personally, I’m so here for an analysis of vampires and repression, but that would make this review about ten times longer. If you’re into that—or any other vampire symbolism–hit me up in the comments section.

Finally, we can’t wrap up the praise section without a word about Dracula himself. Played by Allan Louis, the big bad of vampires was wonderful, both alluring and creepy. It’s not hard to believe that people would be drawn to him, even without his vampiric powers.

The only thing that really didn’t do it for me or the people I was with was the ending. It was a bit…abrupt. Which is funny, because that was my criticism of how they dealt with Dracula in the book the very first time I read it back in elementary school. Still, whatever my feeling on that particular subject, this ending felt as though it was especially cut short, as the sun rises and weakens Dracula almost as soon as they catch up to him. A lot more focus was places on the Lucy storyline than on the group’s attempts to track down and destroy Dracula, which I wasn’t a fan of and I think provoked a bit of a “that’s it?” reaction from people who didn’t know the story. Dracula has become such an icon that to get rid of him so easily seems a little…baffling.

So don’t go into this one expecting a beat for beat adaptation of the book. You aren’t going to get it. However, if you’re looking for a play that will give you that creepy, Gothic feeling, definitely check it out. You won’t leave disappointed.

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