Director and Co-writers: Andrew Quick and Peter Brooks
Projection and Video Design: Simon Wainwright
As the pandemic drew down curtains across the theatre world in 2020, Imitating the Dog were touring their inventive, shot-by-shot remix of the seminal 1960s zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead.
As we emerge blinking from the darkness a year and a half later, the Leeds company show they have spent the time well: breathing fresh life into a Victorian horror classic by reimagining the Dracula story with a graphic novel sequel spanning the 20th century.
This is exceptionally innovative theatre: three actors perform simultaneously to the audience and to cameras on stage, adjusting the shot to recreate each chapter of the story projected and animated on a big screen.
Bram Stoker’s original ends with Jonathan Harker freeing his cursed wife, Mina, by pursuing and destroying the Count.This retelling sees Riana Duce’s still youthful Mina descend upon a London police station on New Year’s Eve 1965 to deliver a fantastical twist to the tale: confessing to a murder that night as part of a 70-year killing spree in the pursuit of evil across war-torn Europe.
Duce is brilliant as the world-weary and blood-stained vigilante, working hard to convince a sceptical WPC and a detective that, driven by prophetic nightmares, she assassinated the likes of Stalin and Mussolini – names they have obviously never heard. Adela Rajnović and Matt Prendergast are also impressive as the unlucky coppers who pulled the ultimate graveyard shift, playing multiple characters, speaking in French, Russian, Italian and Spanish.
The story is told in flashbacks, the trio efficiently and cleverly recasting each shot in the fast-moving animation, forcing us to switch from stage to screen and back. There is not a dull moment and one or two really clever switches. The second act builds towards a thrilling conclusion in which we discover who Mina killed that night and whether she has finally completed her mission to rid herself of Dracula and the world of evil
The elements of the craft of acting and making are cleverly fused, adding multiple layers to the experience and demanding attention. Interestingly, this is creativity borne out of necessity as the show was made under the confines of the two-metre rule – the performers remaining socially distanced in reality yet locked together on the screen.
This return of Stoker’s helpless victim as an empowered voyager to Europe’s heart of darkness provides a profound meditation on the nature of evil and our helplessness to stop it.
It is a worthy successor to the original which, thanks to the immediacy, vibrancy and sheer cleverness of the storytelling, remains both timeless and fresh.
Runs until 16 October 2021 and touring