Dracula: New NTS production takes female perspective

You'd think after 126 years, new ways of telling the story of Dracula might be exhausted.

Since Bram Stoker wrote his 1897 novel about a Transylvanian nobleman who is also a vampire, there have been countless films, plays, books, essays and comic book adaptations.

Whether you recognise Dracula as the rat-like Count Orlok in the unofficial black and white adaptation Nosferatu, the dashing 1950s sex symbol portrayed by Christopher Lee, or even the comical Count in the children's TV series Sesame Street, they have one thing in common.

They're always male.

And that's where a new co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland and Aberdeen Performing Arts breaks new ground. Even if they are not prepared to shout too loudly about it.

"We have been noncommittal about the gender of Dracula," said Morna Pearson, the writer of Dracula: Mina's Reckoning. "There is no great statement there. Dracula represents centuries-old evil and that exists outside our society."

Actress Liz Kettle is quietly excited.

"I didn't hesitate," she said.

"People say are you going to play him as a man or a woman and I say, neither. I'm playing Dracula. There's an allure to playing an icon."

The cast of Mina's Reckoning on stage
The cast of Dracula: Mina's Reckoning will be taking the show to venues across Scotland

The entire ensemble is female and non-binary and as the title suggests, it's Mina Murray's story. In the original novel, Mina is the fiancée of Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified solicitor who visits Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains to advise him on the purchase of a house in England.

When Jonathan comes under the count's spell and begins slipping into vampirism, it is Mina who must rescue him and join the hunt for Dracula in England.

"Mina drives a lot of the story and I wanted to bring that life force of hers to the stage and give her more," Morna said.

Local connections

Danielle Jam, who plays Mina, was happy to be given more. She grew up in Aberdeen but only recently learned of the connections the area has to Bram Stoker.

An Irish theatre manager, Stoker was a regular visitor to Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire. While staying there on holiday in 1895 he began writing Dracula, taking inspiration for the vampire's home from the nearby Slains Castle.

The play is in English but a few of the characters speak with a north-east dialect, and some, including Mina, have dialogue in Doric.

"I grew up speaking Doric," Danielle said, "so it's great to be able to speak it again and also have something so familiar in a novel which has been around for so long."

"There's something about our leid (language) which is really ancient. It can sound really strong in our dialect."

Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire
Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire is said to have inspired Dracula's home

Liz is insistent that this is Mina's show.

"Dracula is not the main person here," she said. "I am merely a black cloak in the background. I find that really refreshing."

But with over a hundred years of interpretations and imagery to choose from, she still had to make her Dracula recognisable.

"I cherry picked everything I needed," she said. "Four-inch claws, long, grey hair, and a long, black cloak."

The count comes home

For inspiration, she looked to the history books and the stories of Vlad the Impaler, and Elizabeth Bathory.

Vlad Dracula was a 15th Century ruler of Wallachia in Romania, an infamously brutal military leader who was said to impale his enemies.

Bathory was a 16th Century noblewoman in the kingdom of Hungary who, along with four of her servants, was accused of killing hundreds of girls and women.

"She apparently bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth," Liz said.

"But what's more interesting is to consider how this legend began. Who started that rumour? People who resented her power or owed her money. A woman who ended up holed up in her own castle."

The show opens in Aberdeen this week, before touring to Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness, Dundee, Edinburgh, Coventry and Liverpool. For Liz, it's the first Scottish tour she's undertaken in 30 years, and she is enjoying every moment.

And starting off in Aberdeen, so close to the roots of the story, is very important to her.

"I had to go to Slains Castle this week," she said.

"I watched the sea, and listened to the seagulls, I could see the castle in the distance. I got lost, walked for miles and eventually found the path to the castle. And I thought, oh, home…"