​Dracula Director Danny Wainwright on Mixing Politics with Comedy

There couldn’t be a more poignant time to retell the story of Dracula with a 21st-century twang. With both the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign being at the forefront of politics since the turn of the new year, it is somewhat ironic that a 1897 novel about a Transylvanian vampire could make such a poignant message on issues of immigration. In the Pleasance Courtyard Let Them Call It Mischief are retelling this tale of a Romanian immigrant with comic flare. Director and co-writer Danny Wainwright tells Sophia Charalambous about what drew him to inject the funny into such a politically-charged, Gothic horror story.

It takes a lot of seriousness to not take yourself seriously.

How did you decide on Dracula?

I saw a version of Dracula that I didn’t like very much. I was basically laughing through it when they were trying to do it seriously. It occurred to me that this would be a good comedy show, so I approached my co-writer and we starting putting the show together in January. Lots of workshops and about twenty drafts of the script later, here we are!

Are you making a political statement with this play?

When we started writing was just when Donald Trump really started spewing his bu***** starting all this bile about foreigners and the unknown and immigrants and as I was reading Bram Stoker’s version, I thought ‘oh man, that’s exactly what happens in this book’. There’s all this fear of the unknown and you don’t get Dracula’s side whatsoever from the book, it’s all from their point of view. In that sense it is a really pertinent, modern, important story. But we’ve just put loads of jokes on the top of it to mask anyone thinking we’re making a big political point.

And surely Brexit must have had an impact too?

When we were previewing the show it was around Brexit time so audiences were picking up on the political undertone even more. There is this fear of immigration with the Eastern-European element, but we’ve just made the character a vampire other than anyone else.

How did you decide which modern references to use? (We heard Christina Aguilera, Beyonce in there.)

There were too many to start with. My mind works in very strange ways. Someone came to tell me I needed to get out more after hearing all my references, which is nice because it’s probably true. But hopefully they don’t all sound tacked on, they should all be telling the story. Apart from the one frivolous Beyonce one, that went on for far too long, but… I enjoyed it.

Do you normally write political plays?

No. The last thing I wrote was a similarly silly version of A Christmas Carol for the Pleasance eighteen months ago. It was just silly, there was no politics in there at all. I couldn’t really avoid a political edge with Dracula hidden under puns and song lyrics.

How did you go about directing such a complicated script, in terms of scene changes, in such a small space?

Yes, we picked a really big show to put in a really small venue which is two shipping containers stuffed together. But I really like it because it intensifies everything because you can’t get away. There’s no hiding. I think it helps the audience not to drift at all because the action is coming thick and fast and in your face. We know the limitations of the venue and so does the audience so we just make a joke about it. One actor saying his last line as one character, and the first line as his new character still dressed as his old one: we’re just embracing that it’s a Fringe show, there’s not enough people in it, and there’s not enough room.

We’re not trying to create reality on stage. If you watch it on a video its going to look shit. You need to be there. We’re creating immediate theatre rather than this faux sense of realism where everyone is trying to be a real as they possibly can.

Van Helsing’s weird hybrid accent - a bit Dutch, Italian and German. How on earth did that come about?

I’m not sure how Graham found it. It might have been from a Grolsch advert in the early 2000s. The beauty of it is we said it was a European accent, we don’t mention where it’s from and you deflect any mention about where it’s from. So anywhere that sounds vaguely European will do… without trying to sound not bothered about it!

It must mean a lot of meticulous planning to present something as silly as this?

It takes a lot of seriousness to not take yourself seriously. It means you’ve got to be stricter and pay more attention to detail that is quite anarchic.

Do you ever write anything serious?

I find it quite difficult to be sincere when I’m writing serious stuff. I’m going to learn have to do it at some point. I write a line and then think, ‘people don’t speak like that’. I find it much easier to find how people speak when there’s a silly point behind it, because people are ridiculous! I just need to learn how to write serious stuff and then I’ll go to Hollywood or something like that.

Dracula plays at the Pleasance this Fringe. Full Edinburgh listing: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/dracula/713718

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this article has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now