Dracula was, originally, a book written by Bram Stoker in 1897 that intended to be a reflection of the worst of Victorian society. This seems challenging enough to adapt to the modern stage, let alone making it a good adaption and an excellent play. However, my initial doubts were proved wrong!
The play greatly shortens the dense source material of Stoker’s, easily cutting through the 488 pages down to a two hour play (with the extra twenty minutes of interval). ‘Dracula’ greatly benefits from this: some characters are cut out completely, and character arcs and sped up to build up the momentum quicker. For the book loyalists, this might be more of a drag but for the average viewer, this makes the play clearer and easier to understand. These changes are welcome especially in the clear attempts to modernise it: Mina Harker, one of the main characters (and one of the only two women) is given a larger and more fitting role, and Renfield, who is traditionally a man, has been adapted to a female role. None of these changes need to be justified, however, seeing as the adaptations are natural, integral to the plot, and heighten the play into feeling more like a contemporary piece of work.
The acting also felt fresh and passionate. The long monologues of Renfield were strange and creepy, as was Dracula’s looming presence, setting the scene of ‘Dracula’ as authentically thrilling play. Mina and Jonathon Harker were excellent, as were the background actors, whom I often caught myself looking at just because they were so interesting. Other actors such as Lucy and John Seward often felt more hollow and like the weaker links (with Lucy’s accent especially jumping a bit), but the cast were extremely solid and definitely made it seem that much more energetic.
The biggest surprises were the set designs and lighting. At the break of both Act One and Act Two, I jumped out of my seat! To put this into perspective, I didn’t even flinch watching The Exorcist or IT. Let’s just say that when I was watching the play, I was definitely relieved to be sitting right in the middle.
That’s not to describe ‘Dracula’ simply as a play that would scare you – it has in equal measure heart, action and (sometimes) laughter, that can also be found in the book. This carries over to the play, but apart from the book, ‘Dracula’ can be singled out by the feeling of community: we all jumped and laughed at the same time, and after talking to a few people at the end, we all agreed it was a really good play.
The only thing I would stress is that if you have a eye condition, or are wary of flashing lights, do be careful about watching it and do your research before seeing it. Other than that, I would rate Dracula at the Theatre Royal a 5/5!