How do you reinvent a timeless story like Dracula? It’s a question that us theatre goers ponder as we take our seats for the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning, performed this evening at Dundee Rep as part of a national tour before heading south of the border. So many creators have already tried to bring a new and compelling dynamic to Stoker’s famous story – but how many have succeeded? None, spring to my mind.
In Morna Pearson’s retelling, the drama mostly unfolds in Aberdeenshire, an area which is home to Slains Castle – the grand building that inspired Stoker to create Castle Dracula. Today, Slains Castle stands as dramatic ruins, and this is reflected in the brilliantly gothic staging by set and costume designer Kenneth MacLeod. The craggy buildings double as Dracula’s spooky castle and as a grim women’s asylum – a place where Mina, and others like her, are confined for being free thinking women who fall short of men’s expectations.
Bringing the narrative back to Scotland and drawing on Bram Stoker’s influences – including the Scot writer Emily Gerard, who wrote the book on Transylvanian folklore – works incredibly well, giving the local audience an invested interest in this world-famous tale. Pearson expertly weaves her Scottish tale together with Stoker’s whilst still staying faithful to his main plot points, ensuring fans (and indeed fangs) of the bloody thirsty original are not disappointed.
With an all-women and non-binary ensemble, the play twists the narrative to explores what it was like to be oppressed in the 1800s through the characters of Lucy and Mina. The eight-strong cast is incredible, with star turns from Danielle Jam as Mina and Liz Kettle as the shady and sinister figure of Dracula. It is, however, the role of Renfield, played magnificently by Ros Watt, who really stands out. Watt is magnetising on stage, pulling off a performance that is both unsettling and oozing with vulnerability.
By putting Mina at the grisly heart of this vampire tale, Pearson empowers her lead and pulls off something that Stoker’s own story lacks – a fully formed, three-dimensional female lead. It is a thoroughly enjoyable feminist retelling.