When I walked into the Dukes to watch the matinee performance of Dracula: The Untold Story, produced by Imitating the Dog and the Leeds Playhouse, I walked in with a sense of apprehension. I hadn’t seen a performance since a viewing of Cabaret the year before I came to university (it’s safe to say that this was quite some time ago), so I didn’t know what to expect. All I had been told by friends who has seen a play staged by Imitating the Dog, was to enter with an idea of a play, and leave having experienced something that stretches the very realm of what a play can be.
So big expectations!
The play’s narrative focuses on Mina Harker (a significant character in the Dracula novel) and her confession to a brutal murder that takes place in the dawn of 1966. However, her story is unbelievable, if she is right then she should be ninety years old, yet the woman shown looks to be in her late twenties. Let the blurring of lines commence as we see the fantastical with the real merge into one. She is both human and supernatural.
The play followed the investigation forthwith in her retelling of Dracula. The use of practical effects that I will discuss later in this article, allowed the two narratives to blend seamlessly, and truly immerse the audience in the story at work – it even has clever little cues that link the fictional world to the present day.
For those that don’t know Imitating the Dog, they integrate theatre with projection, creating a mix of lighting, sound, and stage production. Now before I begin explaining the production of the stage, I need to preface that other than GCSE Drama, I am a theatre novice, but even I could see how the lighting designed by Andrew Crofts bought the whole production to life.
The set itself was so minimal, when I entered all I saw was a set of classic wooden school chairs and a table, leading me to wonder how this was all going to work. However, the white set caught my attention. The white walls served as a screen, with images projected on them for a more dynamic theatre performance. As the narrative was expanded and explored, it mirrored the lines spoken by the actors in front of us. The white walls and set pieces made all the difference as the lighting acted to create a new sense of theatre.
The projections allowed the audience to get closer to the action, as the three actors on stage portrayed a complete cast – Mina, the policemen and women, Mina’s victims, our narrator and even Dracula himself. The use of projection made it less of a Brechtian performance; we were allowed to see the difference in character and location, whether through change of accent, language, or even props.
The repetition of Gothic themes such as non-diegetic rain sounds, projections of blood, spiders and the biblical motifs of flies and the Devil, forced the audience to question their own knowledge of the novel and myth, as the police attempt to crack the puzzle of the murder. The visual motifs throughout the play lead to a final question of the play, who is her last victim and why?
The play enables us to expand our knowledge of the myth of Dracula. What is he? Is he real? Is he a man at all? But, the play also9 questions what is real and what is myth. If Mina is right, then Dracula and the evil that comes with him still exists. Yet, Mina is ignored again and again by the police, as they do not believe that she has committed murder let alone that she is part of the Dracula myth.
She reminds us that the evilness of men still exists and the murders she committed are all in the name of stopping evil.
So, did Dracula: The Untold Story fulfil my expectations? It certainty did. The performance captured my attention from the first time Mina was shown on stage. The lighting, projection and camerawork allowed for a more inventive sense of theatre and enabled everyone close-up to the action on stage.
I really recommend visiting the Dukes and see what they have to offer, whether to see a play or film.