Though it may seem like an unlikely venue for a theatrical performance, the London Library is actually the perfect setting for Creation Theatre’s latest production, Dracula. It was recently revealed that Bram Stoker used the library when writing his most famous work, following the exciting discovery of original copies of 26 books that Stoker for his research, complete with his distinctive markings.
Oxford’s Creation Theatre is best-known for creating site-specific theatre and this particular production takes place in the London Library’s magnificent Reading Room, a bookworm’s dream come true. Kate Kerrow’s adaptation reorders Stoker’s original story and focuses on newlyweds Jonathan and Mina Harker, beginning once Jonathan has returned from the Count’s castle in Transylvania. Plagued by fever and nightmares, he has travelled with Mina to Whitby, to the house of her friend Lucy, who died in mysterious circumstances, and while Mina sorts through Lucy’s belongings, he tries to rest. Through a series of flashbacks the audience finds out more about Jonathan’s visit to the Count, and witnesses Lucy’s treatment treated for an unknown illness by a Dr Seward, who later calls in Professor Van Helsing to help. Dr Seward treats another patient, a man named Renfield, who also appears to be influenced by the Count. Though Dracula is never seen, he’s ever-present as a menacing pair of red, glowing eyes, or a bat knocking against the window, a threat lurking in the shadows.
Directed by Helen Tennison, Dracula offers a fresh take on a classic tale and is an energetic and engaging production right from the get-go. Two actors play all of the roles, which is no mean feat as they take on the varying quirks and personalities, although at times it feels as though some of the characters are a little underdeveloped as a result. Nevertheless, Bart Lambert puts in a strong performance as Jonathan, haunted from what transpired in Transylvania, and switches to the somewhat eccentric (to say the least!) character of Renfield with ease, while his Van Helsing brings some light relief to the darker moments. He works well with co-star Sophie Greenham, who shines as Mina, trying to keep it together as her husband falls apart. She also brings a sense of fun to the production with her quirky portrayal of Dr Seward. The pair make excellent use of their surroundings, moving around the audience which in turn showcases the library’s historic treasures.
Though the acting is impressive, what also works well are the sound (courtesy of Matt Eaton), lighting (Ashley Bale) and AV (Eva Auster). These combine to bring an eerie, tense feel to the production and add to the Haunting drama – from the sound of howling wolves to the creaking of coffins, this production has it all!
At times however, the play is hard to follow, even for those familiar with the original Dracula, and admittedly it may not be quite as impactful if it was staged elsewhere, as the magnificent library really does add to the whole experience. That being said, it is still a compelling, atmospheric take on Stoker’s classic, an entertaining evening like no other! While Dracula is the first play to be staged in the London Library, in such grand surroundings as this it’s sure not to be the last.
This review was originally written for Love London Love Culture. To read the original, visit here.