Bram Stoker adapted by Kate Kerrow
The London Library
There have been many dramatisations of Bram Stoker’s novel, the first his own version produced at the Lyceum Theatre the year of its publication, though his boss Henry Irving did not as the author had hoped play the Count. This one, first seen in Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford a year ago, here gets a new site-specific staging in the place where London Library member Stoker did much of the research for its writing in volumes that are still on its shelves.
It is very different from that original Lyceum production as the story is told by just two actors, Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert, playing Wilhemina (Mina) and Jonathan Harker—and all the other roles,
Kate Kerrow’s adaptation brings the date forward to the mid-twentieth century, the time after Harker has returned from Transylvania and is being nursed by his newly married wife whose friend Lucy is already dead. The story is told through documents they find and their memories.
Helen Tennison’s inventive production draws on video projections (designed by Eva Auster), shadow silhouettes, voice recordings, Ashley Bale’s dramatic lighting and an atmospheric music and sound score by Matt Eaton and uses this specific location intriguingly. The main playing area is around a chaise longue set on a raised platform in the centre of the Reading Room, surrounded by stacked bookshelves, carried up a staircase to the upper gallery and when a blind used for projections is raised it reveals a practical window which extends the action beyond it.
As Mina and Jonathan dig out papers, find recordings and unpack the valise of Lucy Westenra, they take on the characters of vampire investigator Professor Van Helsing, of Lucy herself, sometimes her video image as in a mirror, imagined in her dress or acted live, asylum doctor Seward and his insane fly-eating patient Renfield.
It is a progression of helter-skelter changes that may sometimes be confusing unless you are very familiar with the story, but they built up excitement.
The pace is too fast, the information too fragmentary to give depth to character. It is up to the actors to give these people reality as the Count beats his bat wings outside. If Greenham’s Transylvania innkeeper or Renfield (whom they both play) are a little caricatured, that’s not out of place in this fantasy. You don’t have to believe in this gothic extravagance, but you get strong performances with positive presence.
Music and lighting, with everything flickering near to fusing, give a theatrical energy but it never produces those moments of terror that make horror stories so entertaining: it just isn’t frightening.