Writer / Adapter: Kate Kerrow
Director: Helen Tennison
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Site-specific theatre productions deal with a unique set of constraints. Whether that’s an immovable object in the middle of the perfect staging area, an audience expectation of what should happen in an area or even awkward acoustics. Creation Theatre from Oxfordshire specialise in this area though and have done for over two decades. The level of experience shows as the production of Dracula fits in gracefully with its unusual and decorous setting.
Bringing Dracula back to the library, perhaps the very room, that Bram Stoker researched and wrote the book has an irresistible air to it. Combining that opportunity with an engaging, vivid production has created an experience, rather than a theatre show. Smartly done with quick writing, immersive AV and fun characterisation the two-hour two-hander covers a lot of ground, and brings a fresh view to this old story.
The show focuses on the aftermath of Jonathan Harker’s trip to the Count’s castle. He has accompanied his new wife Mina to her friend Lucy’s house so they can sort through her belongings following her mysterious death. While there, we see evidence of his worsening illness, flashbacks, new characters of a doctor and asylum patient, Professor Van Helsing and gradually build a story about what has happened in the two months from where the book leaves off. As expected, it’s creepy at times, but the shocks are diluted by some comedy moments.
Exploring the characters of Harker and his wife Mina a little more gives the creators a chance to bring out some of the less dominant themes in Stoker’s book. There is confused sexuality between the couple, as well as some interestingly macabre thoughts about life, blood and spirit.
The two actors playing all the parts, Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert, bound through the bookshelves of the London Library reading room and encircle the audience at times, bringing the space to life. The visual team have done a smashing job, with a set designed by Ryan Dawson Laight which unfolds among the arresting AV show, sound and light design from Eva Auster, Matt Eaton and Ashley Bale respectively.
For all it’s undeniable great points, it’s not perfect. Some plot areas are difficult to follow (the journey to the couple’s realisation they are infected with the evil they long feared is a bumpy one), some accents are not quite credible, and characters like the female Dr. Seward feel more like caricatures (though are fun). It is undeniably an engaging and enjoyable performance though, and as the first theatrical production the London Library has staged (in its nearly two centuries of life) it’s a superb start. Anyone making a trip should get there early as well, and make the most of the opportunity to see the actual books Stoker used as research and inspiration for the book when he was a member here.
Runs until 3 March 2019 | Image: Contributed