Vampires are having a moment right now.
They’ve been increasingly and noticeably taking over literature, film and television in recent years with the popularity of shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries, and previously with the Twilight Saga.
In light of the younger generation’s newfound love of vampire culture, staging Dracula – the play that started it all – is a refreshing choice for the Shaw Festival.
However, in the same vein, because media has now redefined the vampire genre, it’s not enough to stage Liz Lochhead’s 1985 adaptation of this gothic classic, lauding it as “dirtier,” with a more feminist angle (as Assistant Director Kimberly Rampersad pounds in our brains during the pre-show talk).
It needs to be sexier. It needs to be grittier. It needs to play ball with the audiences of today.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Dracula needs to be morphed into an Edward Cullen-type figure by any means. But he does need to reclaim “cool” in his own right.
Rather, Allan Louis’ Count Dracula is charming in a bad joke-telling dad kind of way. You’ll love him surely, more for his tongue-in-cheek lines and his blatant acknowledgement of the fact that he is playing a vampire stereotype, than for any real grit or appeal.
And when it comes to the play’s heroines, strong acting barely saves the show from falling victim to scriptural boundaries, failing to push beyond the play’s era in a relevant and meaningful way.
Lucy (Cherissa Richards), Mina (Marla McLean) and Florrie (Natasha Mumba) provide a more potent portrayal of repressed women’s sexuality in the Victorian era – one of the notable elements of Lochhead’s adaptation. While it’s a welcome deviation from Bram Stoker’s original, the entire concept of the Victorian Modern Woman seems to have little purpose on a contemporary stage.
While the main premise of the adaptation remains the same as Stoker’s 1897 novel, the most notable differences are a stronger focus on the women’s sexual guilt, which heightens their vulnerability to Dracula’s advances, as well as Lochhead’s introduction of class, and the vulnerability surrounding societal status, as seen through the lens of her maid character Florrie (who is not in Stoker’s original text).
Where the show lacks bite the aesthetic more than makes up for it, as the production elements merge to flaunt a seductive quality.
Set designer Michael Gianfrancesco and projection designer Cameron Davis come together to create a crazy, beautiful stage design, in all its gothic glory. Layers of translucent cloth reveal various realms of the conscious and subconscious, the mad and the sane, as the three female protagonists navigate the real world and struggle against the world of their deepest desires.
Rampersad promises us magic, and the play delivers on these delicious little treats, including a platter sliding across Dracula’s table on its own and a forceful spatter of blood striking the white curtain of Mina’s bedroom.
Little details like the flickering black chandelier dangling over Dracula’s dinner table are not easily forgotten. We are drawn to the various settings by the very same charismatic essence I so hoped to see from Count Dracula.
Directed by Eda Holmes, Dracula plays at Shaw Festival’s Festival Theatre until Oct. 14. For more details, visit www.shawfest.com.