[Review:] DRACULA, The London Library, London.
Creation Theatre's Dracula, adapted by Kate Kerrow from Bram Stoker's original novel by the same name, and directed by Helen Tennison, recontextualises Stoker's classic story in a setting of pertinent historical poignancy. The London Library being the location Bram Stoker researched his famous novel, this performance perpetuates and immortalises the familiar tale.
An obvious characteristic of this performance is the presence of the audiovisual (designed by Eva Auster): projections, from both handheld and on-screen projectors; voiceovers and narrations; and dynamic lighting. As letters, figures, colours and animals flood the site, we are made to feel as though a strong and malicious force is skulking across and pervading the performance space, a most eerie and effective decision. This was the desired effect, according to Tennison. With the Count's multifaceted representations in media, films, novels, etc., Tennison wanted to strip this monster back to its raw reality. This was definitely achieved. The Count's voice is replaced by an echoic voiceover, and an image of a large, inhuman hand with long talons constitutes his appearance, alongside the descriptions made by the two main characters.
Most of the images are similar to this. Rather than being representative, the images projected are rather simple and allusive, playing with our imaginations rather than a specific physical reality: blood cascading from an opened, fanged mouth; a colony of flittering bats; a slow passing of dark, heavy clouds. I have to say, however, the design of these was rather inconsistent, fluctuating from real (videoed studio-made performances) to realistic to cartoonish. This made the overall aesthetic of the performance slightly skewed — compare, for example, the detailed and fluid video of a proud, posing wolf with the low-fi, looped GIF of a flying bat, or, better yet, with the sharp animated red eyes at the window. This discontinuity of style makes the images seem as though simply plucked from Google Images as opposed to artist-designed, dampening the believability and beauty of the performance's aesthetic.
The images also become far less evocative and symbolic towards the end of the performance and become rather plain and self-expositional. This was particularly the case for the images of Lucy. Where at first she is symbolised subtly by a dress and a wreath of garlic flowers and only seen slightly in images (a bleeding mouth or demented eyes), this subtlety becomes dramatic as we are presented with her entire body dancing dramatically in the videos. This sudden change from evocative imagery to full-figure representation was very off-putting. It was only effective to see her whole figure, for me, when she was projected by Sophie Greenham's (playing Mina) handheld projector onto the wall, onto Greenham's dress, onto the ceiling, and etc. Here, we see Lucy as Mina remembers her. There is something romantic about it as the two converse; her docile spirit is enabled to occupy every aspect of the space. However, whilst this endearing view of Lucy sees her as more of a trapped or lost soul, the view of her as a malignant, omnipresent force is compromised by seeing her lurking comically in the bushes of the cemetery. The same methods utilised for the Count should have been used here: a passing yellow dress, blood dripping from a hedge, or something else as simple and evocative.
Ignoring the technical fault on the night I saw the performance, there are also issues both technical and directorial that I wish to address. Perhaps I would have felt differently should there not have been a technical fault, but leaving through the window for a second time felt unnecessary and overplayed, for me. The first time was humorous and perhaps a second time would have been effective if it had found itself at the very end of the performance, leaving the audience alone in the space with that now-familiar malignant force. The silhouettes were a lovely idea initially yet became overused — much like other repeated images — and, moreover, their movements were seldom synchronised with voiceovers or dialogue. Lastly, Professor Van Helsing's beheading of Lucy was particularly confusing for me. Perhaps I had missed something, but I was under the impression that she was not in the coffin…and yet suddenly she is and Van Helsing is sawing her head off.
As for the performers, Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert (playing Jonathan) are certainly dynamic actors, transformative and energised. Overall, character changes were clear and characterisations were strong and appropriately humorous, despite Greenham's various voices becoming too similar towards the end. Character changes did become rather repetitive, though — more a directorial issue than anything else. Before changing characters, Greenham and Lambert performed a physical glitch of sorts, their bodies contorting slightly, disposing of any clothes, to enter into their next role. This was accompanied by an odd protrusion of the tongue and, particularly for Greenham, a sound equating that of an orgasm. Tennison stated that vampires have a certain sexy and provocative allure, and this, I presume, was the intention behind these decisions. However, as for the audiovisuals, evocation and representation are different things. As for the tongue, this was not particularly monstrous or efficacious, merely awkward to watch.
I enjoyed their permanent co-existence on the stage, which I felt to draw successfully from themes of ensnarement, experimentation and ineluctability. I do feel that certain moments could have been omitted, however: e.g. the shaving scene, or the arrival at the Count's castle. In these two, the characters do not have a direct connection, and so Mina's presence is unnecessary. Oftentimes, one finds a tendency towards awkward and needless mime or melodrama in places where a character's presence is unnecessary, and this was certainly the case here.
Finally, the use of costume was comedic and really enhanced characterisations. Choosing to set the performance in the 1950s/1960s was an interesting choice, further distancing the fantastical world of the play, yet this period was not referenced elsewhere but in the costume. The set (designed by Matt Eaton) was well adapted to the location, containing pleasant elements of micro-realism — the handwritten letters, for example.