What would you do if you were offered god-like powers? That's the final dilemma faced by Mina in this adaptation of the Dracula story by Morna Pearson.
Dracula offers Mina the power to free herself absolutely: to be free to do anything
The play opens in an asylum for women. But these aren’t the usual Hollywood crazies; their problems are less due to ‘madness’ than their indigent and powerless state.
Mina arrives and relates the Dracula story to the inmates. Now, Pearson has great skill with comic characters and throwing good jokes around like confetti, but this first half of the play is overloaded with detailing the traditional elements of the story that we have seen umpteen times before. This barrage of narration and exposition is a great shame as it distracts from Pearson’s revisionary interpretation of the main characters. In this version, the traditional heroes (the men) are flawed; Jonathan is an idiot, Dr Seward is a bigot, and even Van Helsing – the apparently sympathetic character – leads the other ‘brave men’ into a self-satisfied episode of vindictive butchery. This proof that ‘paternal’ is a cover for tyrannical becomes a turning point for Mina. As for the female characters: nowadays it is not much of a stretch for Mina to be intelligent, strong willed and battling against the control of the men, but it was refreshing and poignant to have a Lucy who is far from the traditional sexy flirt, but is woman who has to accept the constrictions of marriage to Dr Seward because it is her best compromise for security. And she grits her teeth and makes the best of it.
Frankly, the play’s first half requires all the skills of the terrific cast to keep the blood pumping. I’ll mention Catriona Faint as Jonathan and Natalie Arle-Toyne as Van Helsing who both give comic turns to the max, and Liz Kettle who delivers many moments of sly wit as Dracula (and seemingly has the ability to glide instead of walk). Maggie Bain plays a superb autocrat as Dr Seward. Anne Lacey is highly effective in both her roles, but her cameo as Mr Swailes creates the most affectingly sinister episode in the play.
It is in the second half that the play really takes flight. Here, narration and exposition are (largely) ditched in favour of a psychological war between Dracula and Mina. Dracula offers Mina the power to free herself absolutely: to be free to do anything. Will Mina succumb to temptation? Will the subjugated women imprisoned in the asylum become her prey? Will the men foil whichever decision she makes?
The play has an all-women and non-binary cast. This makes no difference to the experience of the play. Although I must say the roles are delivered with such skill and aplomb that one is never aware that the same actors are playing characters of different sexes.
Despite the overloaded first half, the ideas of this play are exciting and provocative, it is backed by a superb cast and the curtain drops on a conclusion that is satisfying, humane and hopeful.