Dracula: The Untold Story
Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks
Imitating the Dog
The Lowry, Salford
Productions from Imitating the Dog always feature an imaginative blend of live stage action and technological innovation. The company’s attitude towards the material upon which their plays are based can, however, vary sharply. Night of the Living Dead was a reverential frame-by-frame recreation of the movie while Heart of Darkness was interrupted by the company breaking off to discuss their concerns about adapting a book so closely linked to colonisation. Imitating the Dog seems to have fewer reservations about Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
However, Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’s Dracula: The Untold Story is more a tribute to / continuation of the original than an adaptation. For an innovative company, Imitating the Dog does not completely dispense with tradition—the old approach of a radio announcement sets the scene as New Year’s Eve 1965 and makes clear this is an alternate reality in which it is accepted Dracula was a real person if not necessarily a vampire.
DS Donaldson (Matt Prendergast) and WPC Williams (Adela Rajnović) are taking a statement from Mina (Riana Duce) who not only confesses to a particularly grisly murder, she also claims to be Mina Harker—the sole survivor of the group who killed Dracula. Having ingested Dracula’s blood, Mina found herself to have longevity and supernatural powers which enabled her to discover a plot, known as The Rising, to bring about an apocalyptic event. Forewarned, she fakes her own death and wanders around Europe as a kind of ‘Mina The Vampire Slayer’ dispatching people who, from our reality’s viewpoint, we know caused unspeakable harm. Yet Mina is haunted by the possibility she is not doing enough and, in fighting monsters, may be becoming one herself.
It ought to be impossible to watch the show—three cameras set up centre-stage obscure the view of the cast. But for Dracula: The Untold Story, the action takes place not on stage but on a screen to the rear. Simon Wainwright films the actors onstage speaking dialogue while striking poses that enables their images to be projected onto the screen. The concept is that the audience is reading a comic (or if you are the sort of person who only buys comics at Waterstones: a graphic novel). Wainwright’s stunning projections insert the actors into panels on the screen in a negative image, drained of colour, with thick borders around their features and Lichtenstein-style Ben Day dots to give the impression of faded comic book pages.
Quick and Brooks, who also direct, show real style in the use of the technique. The actors on stage converse in French, Spanish and Russian and their dialogue is translated into English in word balloons spoken by the cartoon characters on screen. The technique is highly effective, not only convincingly telling the story in comic form but also allowing the actors to be inserted into filmed locations. The projections also insert the actor’s faces onto sepia photographs, which has a decidedly creepy effect when they speak. The company does not hesitate to pay tribute to influences—the vampiric shadow scene from Nosferatu is referenced.
Imitating the Dog cheerfully acknowledges the filming requires the actors on stage to strike some seriously silly poses. For an overhead shot of the police officers discussing the case, Prendergast and Rajnović converse while bent double as if punched in the stomach. A particularly complex sequence requiring actors to clamber on, and push around, props concludes with DS Donaldson confronting Mina and demanding she climb down off the table.
The exhilarating storytelling method in Dracula: The Untold Story is let down by a disappointing script. Throughout, one expects a revelation that never comes. It is suggested, but never crushingly confirmed, Mina’s efforts to avert disasters fail—she does not prevent World War I and it lasts longer than in our reality. The possibility Mina may have been corrupted by her actions is not clarified, nor is the reason why she decides to confess to a murder. Although there is a genuine 'jump out of your seat' visual moment towards the conclusion, the actual climax is uninspired.
Dracula: The Untold Story is a highly imaginative staging of an ordinary script.
Reviewer: David Cunningham