Notes On A Show – Open Book Theatre Company: Dracula

Adapted and directed by Kate McGregor
Starring Joseph Tregear as Jonathan Harker, Nicky Diss as Mina Harker, Vicky Gaskin as Miss Renfield, April Hughes as Lucy Westenra, David Knight as John Seward, Thomas Judd as Quincey Morris, Andy Mcleod as Abraham Van Helsing, Felix Trench as Arthur Holmwood

On 31 October, instead of being bothered by children begging for sweets, my girlfriend and I did something perhaps more in keeping with Halloween: we went to Tooting library to see an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by the Open Book Theatre Company, which stages theatrical adaptations of classic novels in libraries. The show was on the first floor, in the children’s library: chairs were arranged in three rows in a circle, as if for a group session of some sort, which was how the show began. Members of the cast were running a local meeting about certain ‘events’, primarily the disappearance of children; one was making tea, another was running the evening, while two were a couple in the chairs with the rest of the audience, who responded to the questions. Another member of the cast in the audience said he had some papers that might help to explain things, relating to events that occurred over a hundred years ago, which he thought should be read out …

The story of Dracula was recounted in and around the audience, using the small space to great effect to make us feel part of the show. The cast moved from the space in the centre of the seats to roaming around behind us; the show kept moving, flitting back and forth between the events of the book and the group meeting as they discussed the papers they have just ‘read’ out. The lighting, sound and music involved were used to create a suitably spooky atmosphere, enhancing the sense of dread and menace. One scene had the cast searching a crypt for the boxes of earth the count had brought with him to England, and the lights were off and they were using torches to hunt around the library, and it was delightfully eerie. The character of Dracula was also deployed well, barely in the adaptation at all and only used when absolutely necessary, with great use of sound and music.

The cast were excellent in their dual roles (as well as playing other roles in the adaptation as necessary), making the quick changes between scenes and flowing from one to the other, with particular mention for Gaskin as a female Renfield and the modern-day equivalent in the group session. They were particularly adept at being physical and emotionally intense in the confines of the small ‘auditorium’ so close to the audience without hurting anybody or stepping on any toes (although I was worried when they had some chisels for one scene). They make great use of stand-in props to convey the necessary tools, such as a sock for a bandage and tights for the blood transfusions and cotton pads for communion wafers. I really liked how they were able to convey movement and travel in the small area, such as in the second half when following the count as he tried to return home.

We thoroughly enjoyed the show: it was a great way to adapt the book and it was a great use of a library, as well as highlighting the connection between the great works of literature and the vital place libraries have in our society. I look forward to future adaptations by the Open Book Theatre company.

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