“Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
A crowd of people are summoned into a dark room. The only form of light is the glow of the outside city as it reflects through the thin windows, casting skeletal shadows on the walls. Hushed voices murmur into the darkness and there is a definitive air of uncertainty. Suddenly the door opens; a hooded figure emerges through the darkness with a flashlight in one hand. They scan the crowd for faces, reflections. The people are left speechless as the figure lurches into a frantic monologue. The crowd are led through the house, exploring the old rooms until they reach the upstairs where they reside in a single room ready for the performance, and the unravelling of a mystery.
Indeed, this is how the performance of Dracula, at the John Cooper Studio in Monkgate, begins. The audience are seated in a room downstairs, believing that the performance is to be in there. Then they receive a brief tour of the haunted Carfax House, following the hooded figure with the flashlight. The audience are led through narrow, dark corridors with the uneasy feeling that something could appear at any moment. It’s all very spooky.
The play is set in present day, featuring a lone figure who wanders into an abandoned, and apparently, haunted house. They meet a woman who is living there, apparently an inheritor of the property. Together they search through old letters and diaries to unravel the ‘murder mystery’ of Lucy Westenra. For anyone who is familiar with the story of Dracula by Bram Stoker, this is a clever adaptation of the format of the novel itself; as most of it is written through a series of letters and diary entries. The two contemporary characters each immerse themselves in a former past by re-enacting the letters and diaries as they read them aloud. The audience is transformed back to the murder mystery of the nineteenth century that forms the main plot of the novel. The staging flickers through past and present, with a contemporary assessment on the events of the novel’s murder plot.
The play focuses on two female characters who work their way through the majority of the characters who feature in the book, making great use of simple props to create something that feels very real. They use long, plastic sheets to imitate the body of Lucy Westerna and a simple pair of glasses to distinguish themselves between Johnathan Harker or Van Helsing (Johnathan is the suitor for Lucy and Van Helsing is the doctor from Amsterdam in the novel). It is the use of these simple props which make the quality of the acting so great; as the mark of an exceptional actor is the ability to produce something authentic with little support. Consequently, you could never fault any of the actors for characterisation as they were simply so compelling and believable.
Count Dracula for much of the performance is not seen, but only heard, appearing through shadows on the wall and his voice echoing around the entire audience. This creates an air of uncertainty but also, fear. The use of a voice rather than the appearance of the physical character implies the theme of consciousness. His voice could easily be interpreted as the collective thoughts of the audience rather than reality. Which brings to light the issue of whether spirituality and belief in the other worlds is reality, or just a belief inside of our own consciousness. As a member of the audience, I was on the edge of my seat in the darkness, waiting for that moment when he would appear. His booming voice installs everything that makes up the horror of the story and the drama of the performance.
My experience of watching this performance was overwhelmingly positive and I could not praise it more, it is a classic historical fiction made contemporary and one that keeps you on the edge for the entire duration. A must-see for the Halloween period and for any fans of the book, the performance brings a dense and eerie novel to life in the modern day, with reference to the past.
‘Dracula’ is currently being shown at the John Cooper theatre in Monkgate which is just outside of the centre of York. It is showing until Saturday 4th of November and tickets can be purchased online, it is only £10 for a student! Go and see it!