Review: Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning. Belgrade Coventry

Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning

Belgrade Coventry

18th October 2023

Every generation has their favourite vampire c, and it seems the fascination for the thirsty bloodsuckers never seems to go out of favour.  Undoubtedly the godfather of them all is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’, whose immortal legacy remains as beguiling and gripping as ever.  One of the founding pillars of the horror genre, Stoker’s tale has been adapted many times in various mediums, but the material lends itself to a multitude of new interpretations, especially as today’s social attitudes around gender identity continue to evolve.  A new adaptation has been touring the country since early September, which features an all-female and non-binary cast, and aims to tell the classic story from an alternative viewpoint.

Relocating the plot from Whitby to Aberdeen, ‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ finds Mina Murray (played by Danielle Jam) in a psychiatric facility for women in the late 1980s.  Mina tells her fellow patients about her marriage to Jonathan Harker (Catriona Faint), who was sent on business to Transylvania to meet the mysterious Count Dracula (an astonishing turn from Liz Kettle).  Jonathan soon realises there is something wrong about the Count, and is kept against his will, only permitted to communicate briefly with Mina via occasional letters.  Mina allays her fears for her husband’s safety to friend Lucy Westenra (Ailsa Davison), and before long an ominous threat descends upon them all.  Legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Natalie Arle-Toyne) is brought in to fight the evil terror, and soon Mina finds herself trapped in a new twist.

The ’Dracula’ story has always been deeply entrenched in normative gender roles (the strong masculine predator, the submissive feminine victim), and having the story told here by a male-free cast is an enlightening experience, allowing ‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ to really shine a light on gender equality and identity.  It really highlights the oppression of women under the patriarchy and their need (and right) to fight back against it, and levels the playing field in a fresh organic way.  Creators Sally Cookson (who also directs) and Morna Pearson (writer) clearly have a lot of love for the material, and deliver an adaptation that is far from yet another overly familiar retelling.  The story remains faithful to Stoker up to a point, and then reimagines a different journey for Mina, which stops the piece from being predictable.  There’s a few too many wordy monologues which halt the flow, and the chosen accents jar far more than they should and don’t appear to sit comfortably with some of the principal actors. Cookson’s direction could be sharper, too often drawing moments out and losing their power, and the slow-burn approach does take it too far at times.  Pearson’s writing is blackly comic, sometimes lacking focus and intent but it blends with Stoker’s original style well.   Visually it’s a stunning production, with a foreboding set by Kenneth Macloed which really captures the gothic mood, alone with some thrilling lighting design (Aideen Malone) and video projections (Lewis Den Hertog).  Benji Bower’s pulsing score adds additional weight to the piece, and creatively a deadly heartbeat seems to radiate from the stage.

The cast give uniformly good performances, with Danielle Jam making a likeable lead as Mina and also Catriona Faint standing out as Jonathan, alongside Maggie Bain’s brilliantly-pompous Dr Seward and Ros Watt’s haunting Renfield.  Stealing the show is Liz Kettle’s towering performance as Dracula, who is hypnotically gripping as the dark fiend.  From her dark vocal inflections to the creepy finger placements, she’s a walking nightmare and owns the stage.  Kettle wisely avoids playing it camp and so remains coldly effective in delivering the chills.

Aesthetically arresting while sometimes drowning under the weight of the questions that it tries to ask, ‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ offers a new take on an old story, mixing the contemporary with the classic to create something really interesting.  Its fangs could be a little bit sharper, but a stunning performance from Liz Kettle gives it enough bite to make it worthwhile.

‘Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning’ runs at the Belgrade Coventry until Saturday 21st October 2023.

Performance runtime 2 hours 10 minutes including interval

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