The character of Renfield appears in Bram Stoker’s novel as a broken man. He has lost his mind and serves Count Dracula as his familiar; his man-servant. James Hyland’s Dracula’s Guest takes inspiration from this, telling its own story of Renfield and Count Dracula.
As we enter Renfield (Ashton Spear) is sat on stage. He cries and fidgets, looking broken and despairing. At this point he has been an unwilling guest of Dracula (James Hyland) for some time. The Count has been playing with him, torturing him, gaslighting him. Before the play even begins, we have an idea of the state of Renfield in both body and mind.
When Dracula enters, he has a striking immediate presence, He does not look as we might traditionally expect from Dracula and there are no capes to be seen! This Dracula is physically imposing, while remaining a sauve old-world gentleman. The physicalness of the actors is impressive. At one point Spear is hurled a large distance for such a small space and this looked and felt great. There are a couple of moments where their commitment really shines through.
Did you know Bram Stoker was Irish? He was born in Dublin just a few short miles away from where I was born, albeit with a century (and a bit!) separating us. Hyland, surely aware of Stoker’s birthplace, first subtly alludes to colonialism and empire early in his script and then very much brings these to the forefront as the play moves along. Hyland’s Dracula has been molded through years of invasion and colonial oppression. There is also some really interesting subtext where Renfield perhaps does not even realise that he is a representative of colonialism and of the British Empire, so he is lost by Dracula’s assertions. There’s some really strong writing there, although a little too much of the subtlety vanishes as the play moves towards the end.
I admit I had some slight trepidation about seeing a horror piece being performed in such a small space but full credit to the cast and crew, it works well within the White Bear Theatre. The smaller space contributes to the climax, which is both intense and memorable, again showing the commitment of the two actors on stage.
Dracula’s Guest offers two good performances, a solid script and a memorably close and, of course, bloody climax.
Based on the works of Bram Stoker
Adapted, Produced and Directed by James Hyland
Music by Chris Warner
Dracula’s Guest plays at Lion and White Bear Theatre until 09 July 2022 Further information and bookings can be found here.