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A Bloody Great Night of Theatre - Dracula: Mina's Reckoning

Danielle Jam as Mina Murray - Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic

Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning, Belgrade Theatre, until Saturday 21 October 2023

Review by David Court

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ takes the form of an epistolary – a series of writings from letters, diaries, and excerpts from newspapers. Although initially opening with the writings of solicitor Jonathan Harker, we’re introduced to his fiancé Mina (then Murray) through her letters to her friend Lucy.

From an era where women in prose were mostly resigned to being the stalwart and stoic companion to their square-chinned and resolute leading man, it could be argued that Wilhelmina Harker has the most complete journey from any of the characters in the 1897 book – a character both progressive and loyal, she passes through naivety to a quick-witted heroine capable of confronting great – in fact, arguably, the ultimate evil. It’s no surprise that she is often portrayed as the lead in film adaptations – or even gets to star as the heroine in historically related spin-off literature, such as her heroic suffragist in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s steampunk gothic epic ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, for which this play would more than suffice as an origin story.

Liz Kettle as Count Dracula - Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic

This all-female and gender nonbinary ensemble production from the National Theatre of Scotland and Aberdeen Performing Arts, reworked by Morna Pearson (whose similarly gothic themed ‘The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde’ terrified audiences a decade previous), takes place in the Aberdeen Asylum for Women.

It’s here we get the first glimpse of the majestic and vertiginous set, all scaffold and platforms and ramps. Through lighting and back projection, this same set will beautifully double as the aforementioned Asylum, a foreboding Romanian castle and a seaside cliff face and more – and the actors will traverse it with effortless grace, no mean feat in itself. It opens with an audio narration with text projected on the backdrop – the narration itself was lost a little in the audio mix which filled me with a little apprehension, but the misstep was thankfully never repeated.

It's an audacious retelling of the classic tale, a straight retelling for the majority of the play – but with the impetus shifted to a female perspective. This of course - and the setting of 1897 - raises some interesting parallels – which is more insidious; the looming spectre of Dracula and his foul intentions, or the smothering machinations of patriarchy that would seek to snuff out any ambition from Mina?

Maggie Bain as Dr Seward, Ailsa Davidson as Lucy and Natalie Arle-Toyne as Van Helsing - Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic

Danielle Jam’s Mina Murray is at once vulnerable and powerful, a free spirit for whom her hobby of bird watching is a metaphor for her need to escape. The narrative is bound to her, as she recounts the sinister events that led to Dracula’s journey to our shores to the other inmates, and her performance is wonderfully convincing and nuanced. Any telling of the Dracula myth, however, is only as good as the performance of its central undead menace, and Liz Kettle is majestic as the titular Count. There have been countless permutations of the vampire lord across media – some feral, some cunning, some enigmatic, beguiling, and enchanting – and Liz conjures a heady mix of all those qualities in her portrayal of the undead menace. She makes the lifestyle seem tempting, which leads to an ending which deviates from the narrative that we’re used to – but seems entirely justified and correct, given the circumstances.

Every cast member excels at their role – all doubling up as both inmates of the Asylum and characters in the outside world. Natalie Arle-Toyne’s Abraham Van Helsing in particular is a special delight, and it’s good to be reminded of the Dutch origins of the character – her thick Afrikaans (think Joss Ackland in ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ with his cry of ‘Diplomatic Immunity!’) is a far cry from the plummy and distinctly English tones of Peter Cushing’s polymath Doctor.

Liz Kettle as Dracula and Catriona Faint as Jonathan Harker - Photo © Mihaela Bodlovic

There was a full house on opening night – including a suspicious number of Goths of whom fans of Dracula may well be adding Aberdeen to their holiday lists to join Whitby.

Overall, ‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ is a bold retelling of a familiar tale, with a level of commitment from all concerned that does said tale justice. It doesn’t shy away from humour with some laugh out loud moments (especially at the expense of the patriarchy and preconceptions about women that should be confined to history) but is both atmospheric and genuinely chilling. All in all, a bloody great night of theatre.

More details about the production can be found here, and tickets can be found here. Details on the Belgrade Theatre can be found here.


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