Described as the type of horror by director and playwright David Knowles, he spoke of his wish to “get back to the terrifying essence” of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’. Shunning other more “camp” interpretations. The 2004 film ‘Van Helsing’ attempted to present the story to a mainstream audience, demonstrating a pointed change in direction from the 1922 seminal horror classic ‘Nosferatu’. David has adapted the play trying to create a sober refinement that gets back to the very root of the novel – “uncanny” being the atmosphere he wants to create. The story has been cut down putting a much heavier focus on the first half of the novel; David told me that he has filtered the novel to what he finds the most dramatically interesting. One half of his play presents Harker and Dracula in Transylvania, and the other sees Lucy, Arthur, Mina (Wilhelmina Murray), and Van Helsing in England. Eventually they must endeavour to discover the meaning behind Lucy’s death. Despite this shift in focus, David said that he has tried to keep his own influence out, and “to make the novel speak for itself”.
I spoke to a few members of the cast just before a dress rehearsal to discover their impressions of their characters. Describing his character as naïve, Tim Blore plays the 19th century gentleman, Arthur Holmwood, one of Lucy’s suitors whom she agrees to marry. Tom McNulty plays Johnathan Harker. His character allows the audience to witness Dracula in his natural habitat in Transylvania, Harker is originally set up as “the foil to counter Draculas’ evil”. However, Dracula – in the face of audience expectation – is courteous, “almost human, but not quite”. Perhaps this is one of the most poignant elements of the novel. Contrasting to the, perhaps, more feeble character of Holmwood. Tom Drysdale plays Van Helsing. Despite having Hugh Jackman to live up to, he portrays his character as “the knowledge” behind the story, leading a group of frightened, and partially unaware, characters through the situation; a calming influence, but also deriving the group’s purpose.
Perhaps this idea manifests itself in the chosen setting of the play. The cast will equally lead the unsuspecting audience around some of Durham Castle’s oldest and most impressive features – including the befitting, 17th century, black staircase – surely creating the uncanny. With such a distinctive setting it is a brilliant basis for a chilling presentation of the angry mob in the face of the unknown.
‘Dracula’ runs from Wednesday 14th to Friday 16th March in the Castle.