Review of Mark Bruce’s ‘Dracula’

At the end of November, I treated myself and a friend to a performance of Mark Bruce’s Dracula. It is a sign of the how good the reviews had been that I was willing to trek from South-West London to North-East London to see it. And, frankly, I have nothing to add but more praise. The following review is testament to the quality of the adaptation. My knowledge of dance is limited to watching Strictly. My knowledge of Dracula both in all its guises appreciably better, and it was with my Gothic hat firmly on that I reviewed this piece.

The set and the lighting were Gothic splendour at its best. The backdrop was beautiful wrought-iron gates through which swirled tendrils of dry ice caught in rays of light. What occurred on this stage was a subtle and intelligent adaptation of the novel. The storyline picked up on the key moments of Stoker’s original but also paid homage to other versions of this story. This was perhaps most noticeable in the omission of Van Helsing and Quincey Morris, replaced instead with a young priest, and the representation of Lucy which owed a great deal to Francis Ford Coppola’s film. There was a knowing edge to the coquettishness of Lucy which was both a source of humour but also highlighted her frustrations with the patriarchy. Mina and Lucy were dancing within the strictures of their society. Their brushes with Dracula were full of fear and release.

This adaptation assumed a certain knowledge of the symbolism, critiques, and metaphors within the original novel. Harker’s journey into Transylvania was tinged with Orientalism that questioned the relationship between the Gothic and the foreign ‘Other’. The presentation of women within the piece was influenced by feminist criticism. The staking of Lucy was suitably unpleasant and cleverly interplayed with the Harker’s wedding night. This coupling between Mina and Jonathan was awkward and uncomfortable, two people never quite complementing one another’s rhythm. In contrast, Dracula’s dance with both Lucy and Mina was, if not more natural, full of desire with a potential for pleasure. Dracula’s final attack on Lucy was beautifully imagined: a succession of images such as Fuseli’s ‘The Nightmare’ and Henry Wallis’ ‘The Death of Chatterton’ echoed through this scene.

The star of the show was, of course, Dracula. By the end, I was thoroughly convinced that Dracula was always meant to be performed by a dancer. Jonathan Goddard manage to convey grace and grotesqueness in his movements. The infamous scene in which Dracula crawls out of the window of his castle and down the wall was unnerving as Goddard’s body took on a reptilian fluidity. Animality occurred throughout the performance – the three vampiresses were also the horses that carried Dracula’s carriage through the night and wolves howled silently in the background. The sense of humans becoming prey to the animalistic vampires was replayed. Dracula donned a top hat and cane in order to perform a vaudevillian song about being a hunter of the wild beast. This moment came just before he travelled to England in order to put forth the pretence that he was an English gentleman. But by the end of the ballet, Harker et al were following a trail of blood through the snow having wounded Dracula. The relationship between hunter and prey was inverted, subverted, and perverted.

Having thought that I was becoming cynical towards adaptations of Dracula, it was wonderful to be shocked, amused, and challenged once more.

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