Transylvanian Dance Encounters in Jack the Ripper’s Haunts

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, Dracula: Mark Bruce Company, Wilton’s Music Hall, London, 11.10.2013. (JO’D)

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Dracula, Jonathan Goddard
Mina Harker, Eleanor Duval
Jonathan Harker, Christopher Tandy
Lucy Westenra, Kristin McGuire
A Doctor, Wayne Parsons
A Priest, Jordi Calpe Serrats
A Lord, Alan Vincent
Vampire Bride,Cree Barnett
Vampire Bride,Nicole Guarino
Vampire Bride,Hannah Kidd

Bruce, Ligeti, Bach, Trifonov and Stanimaka, Schnittke, Scarlatti, Hatton, Whelan, Beethoven, Frith, Mozart, Forde, Ghielmi and Pianca


Choreographed and Directed by Mark Bruce
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Set Designer, Phil Eddolls
Lighting Designer, Guy Hoare
Costume Designer, Dorothea Brodrück
Puppetry and Masks,          Pickled Image
Sound Designer, Chris Samuels
Dramaturg, Lynda Radley
Make-Up, Jyn San
Fight Co-ordinator, Peter Clifford
Costume Assistant, Bianca Ward

Few venues in London can be as appropriate a setting for this production as Wilton’s Music Hall. The late-Victorian unease of Bram Stoker’s vampire tale resonates through the vaulted, galleried, once derelict space. (The gallery is supported by carved, gilt columns, but the unraked floorboards are bare.) As people take their seats on the folding chairs, the sound of faint thunder can be heard. The room is also gradually being filled by a haze of smoke that stirs collective memories of nineteenth-century London fog. Quite a lot of the work of making the audience uneasy (and the area’s association with Jack the Ripper plays its part) has already been done by the time a white-faced and surprisingly contemporary-looking Dracula (the agile and light-footed Jonathan Goddard) appears out of darkness on the raised, apron stage.

Choreographer Mark Bruce has found a way of making the characters in this mime-dance version of the story move in the way that best expresses their emotional state at the time. Dracula thrusts his arms into the air, twists from the waist and spins on one leg as if to show his melancholic torment. His choreographed running on the spot is a perfect metaphor for a vampire’s inability to go beyond death. The three vampire brides beat with their fists on the tombs on which they lie as feeding time approaches. Jonathan and Mina Harker are decorous and distant in the pas de deux they dance before their wedding, intimate and sexual in the one that follows it.

Female sexuality is an aspect of the story that the production highlights: through Mina, through the more wide-awake Lucy Westenra, and through the three brides. These act as a silent and knowing chorus, taking the part of folk dancers in a tavern, maids with feather dusters, and (appropriately) performers in a music hall. (They do all of this with such gusto that, were it not for the obvious, vampiric inconvenience, one imagines it would be fun to spend more time with them.) The stage comes to represent a battle between handsome bearded men, in top hats and capes, and pale-faced, red-lipped women who refuse to conform to their ascribed roles. The women are the stronger. When Dracula is defeated (or, rather, put out of his misery) it is not by men wielding crucifixes and stakes, but by the sexually experienced Mina.

In terms of its narrative structure and the choice of music, the piece falters. In terms of performances and stagecraft, it is uniformly and consistently assured. Dracula slithers across a table as he takes the shortest route to the blood on Jonathan Harker’s cut hand. He perches on the end of Mina’s bed like the incubus in the Fuseli painting. Horses, wolves, carriages and ships (all the things one associates with the vampire Count) are conjured up in deft strokes. There is even a carrier pigeon, delivering letters. The relatively confined space of the stage expands to leave a lingering impression of palid faces looking down through the thickening smoke from upper windows, or from the other side of iron gates. There is, apparently, no aspect of Victorian London, Victorian Transylvania that this production could not recreate if it wanted to. A small but telling detail is the real candles in the candlestick that Jonathan Harker holds as he explores the castle of his sinister host.

John O’Dwyer