Dracula: The Untold Story (Review – Online)

Dracula: The Untold Story (Review – Online)

One of the most interesting “discoveries” I have made through online viewing and reviewing is the work of theatre company Imitating The Dog. I’m obviously rather late to the party as they have been innovating now for about 20 years so are hardly the new kids on the block, but they have certainly hit their moment as the worlds of theatre and cinema have moved closer together during the pandemic. Their work is fascinating, technically amazing and never less than challenging.

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For the first seven minutes of Dracula: The Untold Story, though, I found myself slightly taken back by the relative simplicity of the staging as two police officers listened to a woman who had given herself up as a murderer. It was all somewhat disarmingly straight forward; had Imitating The Dog undergone some radical conversion? I need not have concerned myself. Suddenly the screen behind the trio sprang into action and we were back in ITD’s complex technological world where the actors perform live to cameras and the results are magnified and projected using a raft of cinematic technique. If you’ve never seen their work before it’s a breath taking moment. And, this time round, the company have added another visual level quite unlike anything else. The whole show becomes a living graphic novel, something that they had experimented with in the recent short trilogy Airlock and which is now brought to glorious fruition.

The script and themes of the show by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks also rely heavily on the tropes of graphic novels. It is clearly specified that we are in the mid-1960s, but it becomes clear that this is not the swinging era as we recall it (well, some of us) but an alternative reality which is the same but slightly different – an early clue is a reference to the Beatles consisting of John, Rob, George and Ringo. But there are bigger changes than this as we discover that Dracula was not a myth although he was (technically anyway) sent to his doom in 1895 by the characters in the novel (in our reality) but by the real life vampire hunters (in this version). Her role underwritten and negated by male dominance in the former, Mina Harker is the guiding avenging spirit of the latter. Indeed, it is she who is sitting in the police interrogation room confessing to what is the latest in a string of assassinations where she has tried to prevent Dracula gaining another toe hold in the world by ridding it of some of the blatant evil that would otherwise exist. Like another Villanelle in Killing Eve, she travels Europe taking on Mussolini, Franco et al ensuring that they can never wreak the havoc which, is ultimately intended to lead to Dracula’s rising once again.

It’s a neat idea which is thrillingly executed (if you’ll pardon the pun). Riana Duce is an inspirational Mina who has a young body but an old soul (in theory this woman in her prime should be in her nineties) and who questions whether she has become as much of a monster as the demon she seeks to destroy. Matt Prendergast and Adela Rajnović play a whole host of characters including the police officers coming at the case from radically different angles and the various historical personas. In what is an inspired idea the two combine to embody Dracula with one providing the voice and the other the physical manifestation with strong references to the F.W. Murnau film of 1922. In fact, there’s a considerable level of referencing to the Dracula mythos going on which, if you know your stuff, will provide another whole level of enjoyment.

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As always with ITD there is an extraordinary level of technical virtuosity to relish as well which projection and video designer Simon Wainwright gets absolutely right. The cameras are fixed which means that the actors have to perform in sometimes contorted poses in order to get the required “shot”; Prendergast and Rajnović play one scene doubled over in order to suggest that the camera is taking an overhead shot for instance. As your eye flits from screen to actors and back again it becomes apparent that there’s an extraordinary amount of stylised choreography going on. The technology also means the actors can keep their regulation distance apart as the intimacy required in some scenes can be created fresh on screen without having to worry about social distancing. The one piece of advice I would offer is to watch with the subtitles on (unless you’re proficient at French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Romanian!)

It’s a thrilling example of real creativity and technological know-how from a group at the top of their game. Once again I found myself watching this latest piece of Imitating The Dog product with a profound respect and a sense of awe. They are firmly on my list to experience live as soon as I’m able. Highly recommended.

Production photos by Ed Waring

Dracula: The Untold Story is available via Imitating The Dog’s website – click here and Leeds Playhouse website – click here

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