With a resurgence in vampire fiction and fascination with vampires, shake and stir theatre co’s adaption of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula comes timely in showing the origins of the myths and stories, creating a dark and absorbing thriller production.
With a multi-faceted role in Dracula, both playing the terrifying character and adapting the book for stage himself, Nick Skubij’s main aim for the production was to remain truthful to the stories and keep the essence of Stoker’s novel while making it vivid and live in an action packed linear story.
“It is 100% Bram Stoker’s Dracula on stage. Everything happens, all the key moments happen in our story, it’s just clarified a little better in the story. You can follow the story of the characters much more in the play a lot clearer,” Skubij says, who also founded the theatre company back in 2016 and has also adapted the likes of Animal Farm, 1984 and 2014’s Wuthering Heights.
“It was a really great thing to go back to the book and be able to restructure it, distil it and extract the story and turn it into a play. That process was really awesome and it was like reading it fresh for the first time and then transform it into a life-like moving piece of theatre,” he says.
“We always want to stay true to the essence of the original book. So many people love these classic stories and they are so well written and they are famous for a reason – we don’t want to mess with that too much so we try to update the show through design elements and make it quite vivid on stage through lighting and in particular the enormous automated revolving set that allows staircases to spin around and come on stage.”
The Gothic horror story follows a young lawyer (Jonathan Harker) who visits Castle Dracula deep within the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania to complete the sale of the house. As luck would have it, he soon becomes alone and trapped with the castles walls, discovering that his mysterious host Dracula wants more than just his company. Leaving Jonathan for dead and his castle behind, Dracula travels to London on a quest for seduction, true love and the blood of Jonathan’s fiancée Mina.
Through his performance as Dracula himself, Skubij actually admits to his enjoyment in playing the grand, measured character, along with being one of his most challenging roles yet. “It’s really fun to be able to put on such a big grand character and go out there and not have to be too real with it,” he says. “He [Dracula] doesn’t have those emotions that a normal kind of human contemporary character would have, so it’s more about just trying to be still and create that menacing feeling that Dracula represents. He is the sort of character that is talked about more than he is actually physically on stage so part of the effectiveness of the fear and the people’s apprehension towards him is the fact that he is never really there – he’s always hiding or they can’t find him.
“It was quite challenging in that the simplicity of it is sometimes deceptively hard. A lot of characters that you’re playing in a contemporary play or a normal play, they tend to have a lot of different motivations, a lot of different needs, their desires change from scene to scene and there’s the complexity, it depends on each of the characters desires and finding ways of achieving that and not being able to,” he says.
“With Dracula, his desires are very, very simple. He’s got clear motivation in that he is simply motivated by his need for fresh blood. There’s a really basic survival instinct there, so you know what he is wanting all the time, but then of course people get in the way of him achieving that – it’s making that motivation clear and making sure that’s being played honestly, and believable. When you’ve only got one thing you’re fighting for, you’ve got to make sure it’s an important thing to your character achieves it otherwise there’s no reason for the play to go on, the stakes have to be so high.”
Every bit as tortured and charismatic as Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, evil desires, evil forces and the struggles between innocence and sin circle this twisted tale and should not be missed.
Written by Talia Rinaldo
When & Where: GPAC, Geelong – May 18 – 20. Tickets via gpac.org.au/2017