“There, in one of the great boxes, of which there were fifty in all, on a pile of newly dug earth, lay the Count! He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which – for the eyes were open and stony, but without the glassiness of death – and the cheeks had the warmth of life through all their pallor, and the lips were as red as ever.”
This extract, from Jonathon Harkers journal in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, conjures up the most iconic image of this sinister character. Without a doubt he is one of the most famous of all the legendary horror figures.
The book was first published in 1897, and is a story told through journals and fragments of letters, that recounts the struggle of a group of men and woman (Dr Seward, Dr Van Helsing, Jonathon Harker and his wife Mina), to destroy a vampire who’s earth filled coffins are found in a ruined chapel next to a mental asylum. For today’s standards this may not sound that bad, in 1897 this would have been a pretty terrifying read, not to mention some of the underlying themes that would have appalled certain prudish Victorians, such as female sexual repression and incest.
Bram Stoker brought his character to life after reading about a Prince of Romania, the ruthless warlord better known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler.
This barbaric leader, who reigned in the 1400’s, and favorite method of torture was impaling his enemies, completely inspired Stoker to create this monster. The life of Vlad the Impaler was far more bloodcurdling than the fictional creation. Now a days Dracula and Vampires have been turned into a brand, being used in popular culture time and time again, comic strips, cartoons, computer games, over 170 films and more recently inspiring the Twilight saga, the list is endless.
In 2004 just south of Transylvania, Romanian police were called to a graveyard to investigate a violation to one of the graves. Later six people were arrested; it was believed that a family, who thought their Uncle had returned from the dead as a vampire, was visiting his niece when she was asleep and feeding on her heart. They had broken into the graveyard, dug up the corpse, cut out his heart and burnt it on the stroke of midnight. Police then discovered about twenty other similar rituals had taken place over the last few years. This is the power of literature crossed with folklore and history.
It was this true story that inspired this Pleasant Danger Productions creation ‘Real Dracula’, directed by Paul Holloway and written/produced by David Geasor. It was showing at the ADC theatre in Cambridge from 20th – 24th September, also on 30th September and 1st October.
Real Dracula is a story of love and survival set in a remote Romania village. The two main characters, an Englishman Jonathon, and Ileana (played by Andrew McKeane and Mia Keadell) are a young couple that met whilst teaching at a school in the city of Bucharest. Together they travel back to Ileana’s family home to attend her Uncle’s funeral. After the funeral, strange things start to happen and Ileana falls mysteriously ill. Both these actors give a performance to remember as their characters love develops on stage. Andrew McKeane’s small slip up of one of his lines, in a crucial point in the performance strangely made the scene more realistic and added to Jonathon’s terror. As Ileana becomes frailer and dreams more frequent, you found it hard not to be on the edge of your seat, as Jonathon is desperately trying to come to terms with the problems they are facing.
The first scene is set with Ileana’s beloved Uncle lying in an open coffin in the sitting room. Here we are introduced to her frail and emotional Auntie Magda (played by Priscilla Gray), you could not help but feel sorry for the widow, as Priscilla convincingly takes her character on a roll a coaster of melancholy and despair as she grieves her loss, and a strange family friend Dragana (played by Andrea Miller). Who’s mysterious air in which she presents the character on stage was exceptional; it was obvious she added her own personality to Dragana, and on a number of occasions she pleased the audience with a very dry sense of humor.
Alexandru is Ileana’s jealous childhood friend and want to be lover (played by Oliver Tilney, who has had nightmares of vampires since the audition) keeps reminding the audience of his macho status, he’s a very crafty character and has a huge presents on stage.
The faceless Uncle who appears in Ileana’s dreams was the star of the show, thanks to the technical director Mathew Maude, who mixes up a combination of well-timed atmospheric music and sound effects, with a drab and dark set design. This seemed to seize a perfect ambience for a chilling tale.
It is very difficult to portray horror convincingly on stage; Pleasant Danger Productions seem to do it effortlessly. Pity and terror are aroused continuously throughout the play and there is always a sense of something horrible about to happen. I await the next Pleasant Danger Production with baited breath.
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