Dracula: The Untold Story – Technically Brilliant

Wednesday 29th September 2021 at Leeds Playhouse.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” gets a cinematic comic strip makeover in this bold adaptation from Imitating the Dog. It’s rare for a production to fulfil its descriptors to perfection, but this show is exactly as billed: “a live graphic novel”. This version of the Dracula tale is told through a slick combination of live action and footage filmed, manipulated and projected in real time.

We meet Mina Harked (Riana Duce) in an interrogation room as Channel 4 detective drama-types WPC Williams (Adela Rajnović) and DS Donaldson (Matt Prendergast) prepare to interview her about a recently discovered body. As our detectives dig into Mina’s story, we’re taken on a kaleidoscopic journey through the pages of this ‘graphic novel’, looking back at a history which teeters between heroism and murder in the name of banishing evil.

Duce gives a fantastic performance as the hardened and traumatised Mina, capturing each shifting stage of her eventful life story with a compelling sincerity – along with flashes of an iron will. Rajnović could have walked on stage fresh from the set of Prime Suspect, with her character taking on that distinctive no-nonsense copper approach which is so smoothly reflected back by Prendergast’s brooding naysayer. Shifting from primary roles to Mina’s various encountered villains and Dracula himself, the pair bring a vast array of spaces and faces to life.

Essentially, our three actors perform for precisely positioned cameras which project in real time onto a cyclorama. Various effects and filters are applied within Simon Wainwright’s designs to give the visuals harsh edges, grainy surfaces or a well-timed sepia haze. Time is travelled in shifting hues and gruesome death is performed solo with gory animations from Matthew Tully. Footage is fractured and layered with surprising speed, and strategic camera angles achieve impressive illusions with ease and clarity. In truth, it’s technically brilliant and very slick.

The show is also highly sensory in many ways, with combinations of striking visuals and expressive sounds (Rory Howson and James Hamilton) creating those gothic moments and atmospheres. Evocative music smoothly propels the action, while incessant tinny rain almost brings a shiver to the spine.

Yet the projections do monopolise focus and it becomes near impossible to watch the actors in the flesh when the magic of the transformed images demand our attention. And that irresistible pull means more than simply blurring the boundaries between theatre, cinema and graphic novels; it challenges the experience of theatre-going altogether, in that in many ways it’s closer to a cinema screening than a live production. No less impressive for that fact, but certainly a point worth making.

What co-directors and writers Andrew Quick and Peter Brooks are offering audiences here is a unique experience of current technical capabilities, and even if it feels a little more cinema than theatre at times, it’s a hugely impressive display of what can be achieved in hybrid work, and it’s well worth seeing.

Dracula: The Untold Story plays Leeds Playhouse until 9th October 2021 and you can find your tickets here.

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