Mark Bruce Company’s ‘Dracula’: drawing fresh blood from a literary class

THICK grey fog billowed eerily across the stage, weaving through a backdrop of foreboding iron gates and castle windows. As the lights slowly went down in the suitably cavernous theatre of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, hushed chatter was reduced to near silence. An air of palpable anticipation could be felt, almost as thick as the fog itself. From thereon in, the stage was set for what was to be two hours of powerful and richly gothic live theatre.

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Jonathan Goddard as Dracula

The most intriguing element of this reworking of the classic Bram Stoker tale was its storytelling through the medium of both contemporary and traditional dance. Those who have experienced the tale of ‘Dracula’ through the traditions of book or film may have felt surprise at the prospect of such an adaptation. As a huge fan of the original novel, I was filled with high expectations and pre-show questions. Would they manage to convey all the emotions of the original text? Would the audience feel the same passion, horror and sense of evil versus goodness that the novel conveyed? I have to hand it to choreographer Mark Bruce, for he delivered all these elements and much more. His choreography was inspired; switching between fervent, energetic routines that captured the novel’s sense of mania and horror, to slower, seductively mesmeric dances that reflected the romance and undeniable eroticism of the tale.

Award winning dancer Jonathan Goddard played the infamous Count. Displaying an athletic prowess throughout, he managed to capture a juxtaposing sense of grace and primal ferocity. This suitably reflected the Dracula of popular imagination; attractive and charismatic, yet ultimately monstrous in nature. Although Goddard was the focus, he did not overshadow his fellow dancers. On the contrary, each dancer stood out and truly captured the personality of their character and their place within the fabric of the story. This is perhaps why a dance production was so refreshing, for it allowed the complex nuances of each character to be evoked primarily through bodily movements, rather than speech. Each dancer utilised their body to full effect, weaving the story through expressive motions in such a way that needed few words to feel the full, emotional impact. The production featured accompanying music, ranging from upbeat Victorian music hall songs, Bach, Balkan folk music and Opera. It was a strangely eclectic fusion of musical influences and not what I had expected. Yet I felt that, overall, it worked to convey the constant changes in tone, from light-hearted to insanity to full on horror.

Although the key backdrop never changed, it worked seamlessly alongside every scene. Each set design was clearly and carefully constructed, with particularly strong consideration of lighting and its effect in conveying a particular tone or emotion. With the addition of inventive props, these effects allowed the audience to feel further immersed in the many worlds described in the novel; from haunted graveyards and wolf-infested forests to the intimate, dimly lit dining room of the Count’s castle. The visuals were completely stunning, and a definite highlight. The final scene, evoking the sunrise at dawn with three slain vampires silhouetted against it, was an image which stayed with me for several hours post-production.

Overall, this was an extremely memorable live theatre experience. Directed with panache, vigour and a real desire to both pay homage to, and refresh, a great work of British literature.