Dracula: Mina's Reckoning @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
The National Theatre of Scotland's ambitious, genderqueer retelling of the classic tale of Dracula offers interesting elements, but some flat characterisation lets it down
As the dark nights draw in, what better to set you in the mood for Halloween than watching a feminist and distinctly Scottish retelling of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula by the National Theatre of Scotland?
This new reworking – a co-production with Aberdeen Performing Arts, created by Morna Pearson and Sally Cookson – unfolds against a monstrous frame designed by Kenneth MacLeod which serves as an oppressive asylum, Scottish seaside cliffs, and the infamous Transylvanian castle. We are transported through the clever mastery of Lewis den Hertog’s inventive video design, which also adds mesmerising visuals in the form of journal entries, bloody dripping walls and stormy weather.
These projections are complimented by Aideen Malone's lighting design, which manages to keep the show moving at pace, drawing attention to characters or projections in a subtle manner akin to the style of a gothic horror. Benji Bower’s distinctive score creates an overpoweringly bassy atmosphere, which at times drowns out the voices of the cast. The entire cast besides Mina Murray, played dutifully by Danielle Jam, double as characters within and outside the asylum, translating her terrifying experience at the hands of the Count through the words and actions of women, which makes for an interesting duality of roles. Liz Kettle nails the part of Dracula with their charming drawl and takes advantage of the ample opportunities to glide in and out of view across the sprawling set. Vicki Manderson coordinates the visceral movement needed to keep the audience on their toes.
However, making the men of the play so obviously flawed stops the viewer from taking them seriously and therefore encourages the audience to automatically back the women. Jonathan (Catriona Faint) is obsessed with food and is otherwise forgotten about after the first act; Lucy’s beau Dr Seward (Maggie Bain) believes women are only good for marriage and babies, which the audience finds hilarious. The only man who doesn’t come across this way is Mr Swails (Anne Lacey), who gives a compelling monolgue while a miniature boat followed by Dracula illustrates his journey to Scotland. This choice to keep the men as two-dimensional characters rather than fleshed out roles sadly does not make the women more interesting and sympathetic by default. In Mina’s case, her position in life doesn’t come across as an awful subjugation until she allows herself to be taken by Dracula. Therefore her twist ending comes across as unsupported when she seeks to ‘free’ other women that she has no close relationship with.
There are interesting and well-crafted elements to be found in this play, but as to whether they all tie as well together in this setting and will age as well as other versions of the Dracula story, only time will tell.
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended; show touring to Liverpool Playhouse until 28 Oct