Review – Dracula, The Untold Story – Liverpool Playhouse

WE are in an interview room at Marylebone Police Station. It’s New Year’s Eve 1965, and two officers are interviewing a woman who claims to be Mina Harker, here to make a statement about the killing of Count Dracula.

The innovative theatre company Imitating the Dog have taken a diversion from their previous path of retelling familiar stories. Here they take Mina Harker – originally a key narrator in Bram Stoker’s novel – and imagine the stories that she has never previously told. She takes us on a grim, meandering journey through the decades, revealing herself to be a serial killer who has made it her life’s work to seek out and destroy all those who were touched by Dracula, so preventing a rising of the evil he left behind.

The company use their familiar technique of blending live video capture and projection with animated backdrops, but here they move closer than ever before to presenting the work as a live graphic novel. On the bare white rear wall of the set the pages turn and shift, with the various frames on these pages filled by images of the actors, captured live by cameras as they act out the story in front of us.

At times steps and ledges project from the wall of the set, enabling the performers to physically climb into the page, but for the most part they remain towards the front of the stage, acting independently of each other but assembled together into close contact in their projected counterparts. There is period style in the way the images are processed live to create an almost hand-drawn feel, and wit in the manner in which some of the camera angles are achieved. The audience can choose to watch just the players engaged in their craft on the stage, or only the projected image that is created, but it’s hard not to try to see both at once.

Unlike previous outings for Imitating the Dog at the Playhouse Heart of Darkness and Night of the Living Dead – Remix (both reviewed here) in which the cleverness of the technique threatened to overwhelm the storytelling, this latest work uses the technical wizardry in a more artful manner. In those earlier productions the tail was to some degree wagging the dog, while here it is very much the dog wagging its tail, and very joyfully too.

Riana Duce is Mina Harker, while Adela Rajnović and Matt Prendergast create all the remaining characters. Co-directors and creators Andrew Quick and Peter Brooks have honed every performance to split-second perfection, ensuring that every line of dialogue and every frame of video hit their mark with precision. Designs from Laura Hopkins and Simon Wainwright bring a visual style to the production and this is all immersed in a richly evocative soundscape, designed by Rory Howsen and with a score from James Hamilton.

Since we last saw them, Imitating the Dog have not only learned one or two new tricks, but they have also learned to perform the ones they already knew in a cleaner, tighter and tidier way, which allows the narrative to take centre stage. This is gripping, stylish work that oozes with originality.

Dracula, The Untold Story is at Liverpool Playhouse until 16th October and then continues touring, with dates currently listed in Derby, Lancaster, Watford, Colchester and Salford through into November.                                                                                         

Star rating – 4½ stars

Review by Nigel Smith