imitating the dog (with no upper case letters) are back at Leeds Playhouse, this time presenting the story of the only surviving victim of the world’s most famous vampire as a ‘live graphic novel’.
The production is graphic in every sense of the word, being both gory and presented in the form of what we of a certain age would call a comic book. The premise is that the storyteller in Bram Stoker’s novel, Mina Harker, who slew the Count, has survived since 1901 without ageing and has walked into Marylebone Police Station to confess to the gruesome murder of a man in Soho the previous night.
As the story unfolds we discover that she has been the assassin of many more victims, all of whom are famous to us, but who were bumped off before they came to prominence, thus altering the course of history. As it happens the world still goes through a global war and ends up in the same state that we have come to know and love! It also transpires that she has superhero gifts and can overpower any foe and sense where her targets are in the world, as well as instantly healing from any wounds sustained.
Obviously the events are all speculation bearing no resemblance to actual history and are entertaining enough but it is the way in which they are presented which sets (excuse the pun) the show apart from traditional story telling. This is initially signalled by the placement of two video cameras on the stage.
We begin on New Year’s Eve 1965 with Mina Harker, played by Riana Duce, wrapped in a blanket and sitting in a police interview room having told the desk sergeant that she has information concerning a murder. Enter WPC Williams, Adela Rajnović and DS Donaldson, Matt Prendergast. For some reason Ms Harker is now keeping totally silent and not answering any questions despite being cajoled and later threatened into doing so. It is not until she is formally cautioned that she begins her story. Although a lot of the historical ‘facts’ have been changed in the play, there is one glaring mistake in that the words said to Mina Harker were not those used until 1995. In 1965 she would have been told ‘You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so, but what you say may be given in evidence.’
As the story unfolds it takes us to various exotic locations such as Paris, Moscow, Roumania (sic) and Rome. We are able to do this as the video projection to the back of the stage contains images of the places with live video of the actors displayed in photo frames thereon. There are some other clever tricks with some of the dialogue being spoken in the languages of the countries concerned, very convincingly as well, but instead of subtitles the translation is displayed on speech bubbles next to the photo frames. This must have been a relief to the woman who signs the performance in BSL. As I have said before, she is a real star.
There are some white steps at the front of the screen, enabling the actors to assume positions within the animations of the story. The first one was brilliant where Mina scales the stairs to stand in front of an image of a bed covered with identical linen to her blanket, which makes it look for all the world as though she is having a lie down. The method of displaying the images on the screen results in some very amusing body contortions by the actors to get the correct angles for their setting, on one occasion leaning so far back that I worried they would lose their balance.
The passage through time from 1901, the last time that Mina was seen, until 1965 was indicated by spoof radio news broadcasts which was a good touch. I must say though that I struggled to reconcile the ending with the rest of the play as it appeared that they wanted to sum up a philosophy and make a serious point by using a spectacular whirlpool which detracted from the dialogue.
I do like the productions from imitating the dog, the acting is superb and the subject matter interesting but I sometimes feel that the special effects overshadow the story and suggest that they are trying to show how clever they are. It is a bit like a joke repeated too often or a double helping of dessert, sometimes less is more.
Although the cast only comprised three actors there were a lot of creatives involved. I have provided a link to the online programme so that you can see the list in full and get the biographies and comments of those involved. https://522084-1661659-raikfcquaxqncofqfm.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Dracula-Programme-LoRes.pdf
Dracula – The Untold Story runs at Leeds Playhouse until 9th October. For more details and bookings please go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/dracula-the-untold-story/
All images by Ed Waring supplied by Leeds Playhouse