We caught up with the writer of Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning, Morna Pearson, about her adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic.
The performance is at Macrobert from Thu 21 - Sat 23 Sep.
What made you decide to do a take on a classic like Dracula and why do you think the story has such enduring popularity?
NTS approached me to adapt it and my answer was “hell yes”. I usually have an element of genre in my plays, but this adaptation would allow me to boldly go full horror and it would be my first large scale production.
I’m drawn to dark stories and thought I could contribute a unique version, despite the fact that it is constantly being done in many versions and mediums at any one time. Relocating it geographically was something NTS and I agreed on straight away.
The scale of production and size of cast NTS could offer was very appealing, and with a highly collaborative process – with music, movement and visual design – it would allow for moments of real and satisfying horror, and room for character insight and exploration of themes. I was excited to work with Sally Cookson; I knew she would explode the story and put it back together in a striking and unique but recognisable way, and I knew working with her would push my writing to places it has never been before.
Mina is so integral to the novel and I was excited by her potential as a protagonist and telling the story of Dracula through her eyes.
Stoker’s Dracula endures as it is a fertile and layered story, open for a multitude of interpretations, interrogations, and reflections. Every era has its own existential anxieties, collective traumas and questions about power, and Dracula is the perfect vehicle in which to explore them. In recent years, who is allowed to ask these questions has become more diverse, which can especially be seen in the horror genre.
In honouring the story and the horror of Stoker’s novel, I hope we’ve created a rich, entertaining, and visceral horror for the stage.
How does the North East, and Scotland as a whole, influence your writing for Dracula and the story you are telling in this stage version.
I tend to write where I feel most comfortable, and that is the North-East. Dark humour, coastal landscape, weather, sense of foreboding, and community spirit have influenced this story. I like to think these are characteristics of Scotland as a whole too. The play is set in Cruden Bay, Aberdeen, and Transylvania in 1890, so I had to research what these places were like back then, along with psychiatric care in the North-East of the time.
What do you think it has to say to the current moment/contemporary audiences
The world seems like a different place from when we first talked about doing the adaptation.
We’ve been constantly asking what, why and how, which is important when doing any adaptation. Why we’re telling the story, what parts of the story are we telling, and how are we presenting them. The answers to these questions have evolved as time has gone on. Who has power, who doesn’t have power and why? Trauma, identity and autonomy are all themes in the play. It asks; what do you do when the world isn’t made for you?
There has been interest lately in maverick Scotswoman Emily Gerard who apparently directly inspired Bram Stoker – has she influenced the play in anyway?
Emily Gerard came to our attention last year. The discovery of her influence on the Dracula novel is exciting and confirms the existence of a Scottish female character like our protagonist Mina at the time; an intelligent, thoughtful young woman who hasn’t a great deal of power, but what she does have she uses wisely, and she’s rebellious and unyielding when she can be. It sounds like Emily and her sisters were able to push boundaries of what was expected of women for the time. We have directly referenced Emily Gerard and her writings in this play, through the research Mina does into vampire lore.
What research did you do on the region’s influence and did writing this play highlight links to the North East you didn’t know about?
I read about Stoker’s time in Cruden Bay. I knew Slain’s was an influence, but I hadn’t appreciated how much. Stoker’s description of Dracula’s home (the octagonal room, for example) was based on the castle. When I visited for the first time in June this year, I was struck by how warren-like and oppressive it felt, despite not having a roof.
There is a doric speaking character in the original Dracula, inspired - it’s thought - by Stoker’s time in Cruden Bay, will this be reflected in the play?
Very much so. Mr Swails and Renfield are the main Doric speakers and some others use a lighter dialect. They are both characters from the novel that I found endearing and struck me as having great theatrical potential, along with Mina becoming the main protagonist.
Why did you choose to make this version all female?
Sally had the idea to frame the story of Dracula within an asylum – as psychiatric hospitals were called then- for women. I’d been writing Renfield as a female character and was drawn to exploring their experience in the asylum from the outset, so the framing device spun from there. It opened the play up further to interrogate issues of power, identity and autonomy, which are so relevant today.
The actors are all women and non-binary, as are the characters they play in the asylum. Finding our brilliant cast then further informed the shaping of the characters.
The asylum setting sent us on a research mission to Lothian Health Services Archive at Edinburgh University Library, and NHS Grampian Archives, where they hold amazing and detailed records and photos of patients of the Victorian era. The characters in the asylum were partly shaped by the lives I read about in the archives, and the real horrors they faced in and out of the hospital.
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is on from Thu 21 - Sat 23 Sep. Book tickets here
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