The London Library, St. James Square – until 2 March 2019
Reviewed by Lisa Harlow
This was, for me, an absolutely mouth-watering invite to be welcomed to the very location that Bram Stoker is said to have conducted a few years of research that contributed to this classic gothic story (which never really merited much attention by his contemporaries at the time).
It transpires I am not alone in not having heard of this public lending library with its racks of aged texts, and this is indeed the very first time it has opened its doors in 177 years to put on a performance of this nature.
Set within the inner reading room chamber, the shadows and high wooden stacked shelves with ancient smelling books create a perfect setting for dark thoughts and drama. This Kate Kerrow adaptation for Creation Theatre has been specifically written for the venue and set it within the emotionally repressive era of the 1950s.
The whole production is told by only two actors (Bart Lambert and Sophie Greenham), who take on a handful of the characters, passing the baton and sharing a role or two at times, whilst characters such as Lucy and the Dracula himself, are conveyed through atmospheric visual images and audio. I found myself in a fortunate position in actually knowing the storyline as this gave me great advantage in keeping track on what was actually taking place. To allow for the single site setting and minimal performers, the narratives in the story were rather thrown in the air and completely resituated.
The focus became the decline of Jonathan Harker’s emotional and mental state following his visit to Dracula’s residence (which actually takes place towards the end here) and his relationship with Mina, his wife, whilst documenting their gradual submersion into Dracula’s circle of vampirism. Dracula is represented through the audio-visuals only, and in which seemed to rather a miss a trick in presenting the audience with a fully formed enigmatic presence that this role demands. I actually found the audio, rather overpowering at times, rather than terrifying or alluring.
Both actors do largely a great job of working through all of their character representations, though a couple a rather too much of a caricature. At times, I was drawn into the complexity of Mina and Jonathan’s layers and situations, the bleeding together of reality and unreality, and equally seduced by the aroma of Dracula’s darkness; yet during others, it was all rather too drowsy-eyed and whimsical.
Do take time to arrive early so you can browse over the books used by Stoker for his research which are out for viewing, including original copies which contain his own lines and notes. The pairing of this masterpiece in this venue holds enough weight to certainly merit a visit.