“If the chance to iterate ‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ towards a fuller embrace of its dark, and fabulous potential arises, then it should be seized with both fangs.”
📍Theatre Royal, Glasgow
📅 2 Sep – 28 Oct
🕖 Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees: 2.30pm
🕖 Running time (approx.): 2h and 10min (including a 20min interval)
🗣️ Writer: Morna Pearson (After Bram Stoker)
🎬 Director: Sally Cookson
📖 Story: Morna Pearson, Sally Cookson and Rosie Kellagher
🎶 Composer: Benji Bower
🛠️ Set & Costume Designer: Kenneth Macleod
🎭 Extensive Accessibility Arrangements – please check here by venue
Bram Stoker’s undying creation, Dracula, will be putting bottoms on seats long after I’ve hung up my critic’s coat. So this new cross-production from the National Theatre of Scotland and Aberdeen Performing Arts in association with Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, makes perfect commercial sense. Placing the show into the hands of Traverse alumnus made (very) good, Morna Pearson, and master of theatre magic Sally Cookson, indicates said good sense is in abundant supply.
No-one then, is more surprised than me to find that Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning somewhat underwhelming. All the constituent parts are present: Liz Kettle makes a stylish, and imposing Dracula, Danielle Jam makes a compelling Mina. Relocating matters to Scotland, and washing Mina up on the doorstep of an Aberdonian Women’s Asylum, certainly offers a fresh, and naturally feminist eye-view. With the inmates for an audience, she tells the story of survival beneath thirsty fangs, the hero of her own adventure.
There’s much to admire, and enjoy in this well-paced, well executed play, including a clutch of wonderfully lush horror vignettes. Kettle really does glide with menace, appearing from the shadows without warning, and clearly enjoying every moment. If Stoker’s original is, however unintended by its author, a study in the sexual repressions of its age, Pearson and Cookson have their gazes firmly away from bedroom politics. No, this is an exploration of power, and its close relation, liberty. In placing possibility in front of the disenfranchised, and oppressed women of the age, Mina’s Reckoning sets up a delicious tension.
Philosophy is never allowed to obscure the action though, Kenneth Macleod’s multi-level set offering plenty of dynamism to the show. Under Cookson’s sure hand, this Dracula is never left to grow static or declamatory. Combined with Aideen Malone’s sophisticated lighting, and Lewis Den Hertog’s evocative video design, there’s an immersive integrity to this world of women and monsters.
Where Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning falls down – a little – however, is in the integrity of its storyline, which buckles under scrutiny. Where Stoker, and Coppola supply revenge, and love respectively as the vampire’s motive for targeting Mina, no explanation is given here whatsoever. Jonathan Harker (Catriona Faint), demoted from partner to lovelorn friend, remains an integral hero…until being summarily banished. Van Helsing (Natalie Arle-Toyne) is never fully established as a credible threat to Dracula, an arch-villain who in turn proves a touch too easy to dispatch.
Much can be forgiven in light of the play’s strengths, from strong performances, to highly effective scene, and atmosphere setting. In fact, all of the above changes could be perfectly sensible as part of Dracula reimagined as a dark ‘what if’ story, if it didn’t neuter the dark bargain inherent to vampirism. Power without cost is a Deus ex machina: Pearson and Cookson are more than capable of looking the catastrophic drawbacks more squarely in the face.
Nonetheless, Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is a quality production, and a continually entertaining, shadowy adventure. Strong visuals, and stronger performances ensure that it’s a good night at the theatre. If the chance to iterate the show towards a fuller embrace of its dark, and fabulous potential arises, then it should be seized with both fangs.
Production Photography : Mihaela Bodlovic
Lead Image: Laurence Winram