Today we attended Bram Stoker’s Dracula performed by the Studio Theatre Club, an amateur dramatics club based in Oxfordshire. This play is an adaptation by Stephen Briggs, and I believe this week is the show’s first run. (Unfortunately the final performance is on as I write this review, so no chance of last-minute seats).
As with previous plays by the Studio Theatre Club, the performance was held in the Unicorn Theatre. The theatre is part of Abingdon Abbey, and the old buildings provided a wonderfully ominous backdrop.
The theatre is quite small—I guess fewer than 100 seats—and there’s limited scope to change the set. I liked the simple background, with a chaise longue on one side, a table and chair at the other, and a couple of archways at the back to hide off-stage action. The screen above the stage was used to indicate the scene location (eg Seward’s Asylum or Lucy’s bedroom) which was effective without being intrusive. In fact, it helped add to the atmosphere since the font was “drippy” and the dull red of old blood 😱.
It’s been a long time since I read the original Dracula. Compressing the story into a two-hour performance obviously required cutting out elements and I think combining some events. I don’t think the story suffered because of the trimming, but I wouldn’t have minded a line or two to bridge the missing parts. The play ended at a point well before the end of the book, and on a suitably dramatic moment, which worked nicely.
The characters most on stage were Mina Murray, Van Helsing, Arthur Holmwood and John Seward. I forget whether Van Helsing is portrayed as so eccentric in the book: in the play, it’s no wonder people aren’t initially convinced by his concerns. I was intrigued by how little we see of Dracula himself. Of course his presence is felt all the way through the story, but I hadn’t appreciated that he was far more absent than present. Renfield was fun, and I enjoyed the single appearance of ex-mariner Swales.
Overall, an enjoyable performance. I’d be interested to hear comments from anyone else who’s staged or watched theatre versions of Dracula.
There’s a much more comprehensive review of an earlier performance by Naomi Anna Lillian Webb on the Daily Info site.
Oh, and if you missed it, here’s my interview with Stephen Briggs earlier this year, including comments on his writing process.