The London Library
Reviewed – 7th February 2019
“Creation Theatre are able to harness the power of the space to great effect, resulting in an exciting and engaging piece of theatre”
So it turns out that Count Dracula, whose Transylvanian castle has surely been the site of many a nightmare, was a Londoner the whole time. He was born, from the pen of Bram Stoker, between the shelves of the London Library. Appropriately, upon entering the library’s Reading Room on a gloomy February evening, it emits the same eerie atmosphere that Stoker was able to evoke through words over a hundred years ago.
This is the first play that the London Library has ever staged; at first, it may strike the sceptic as nothing more than a novelty. But Creation Theatre are able to harness the power of the space to great effect, resulting in an exciting and engaging piece of theatre.
Dracula himself never appears in person: instead, the story traces his effect on newlyweds Jonathan and Mina Harker. Jonathan is a solicitor who visits Transylvania on a business trip and returns a different man. Mina, who is staying in Whitby with her cousin Lucy, is witness to many strange events, including the kidnapping of children and Lucy’s sudden death. The play opens at the aftermath of these traumas, with the Harkers attempting to piece together what happened, and why.
Adaptor Kate Kerrow’s decision to re-order Stoker’s narrative might lead to some confusion for those who are unfamiliar with his expansive, detailed plot. Nonetheless, her narrative is engaging and allows the audience to play detective. Every role is played by either Bart Lambert or Sophie Greenham, who throw themselves into the action with relentless energy. Lambert thrives at playing extreme characters. He invests the mentally scarred Jonathan with a very believable sense of mania whilst avoiding the trap of caricature. Greenham is a strong ballast against the frantic energy of her co-star, providing a sense of reality through her grounded portrayals of Mina and Dr. Seward. They also give Kerrow’s narrative arc – on the theme of repressed sexuality – some credibility, though perhaps not enough for it to feel entirely at home in the story.
The third actor in the piece is obviously the Reading Room itself, every aspect of which is harnessed by the creative team. Director Helen Tennison draws our attention to different parts of the room: action happens in front of us, above us, behind us – even outside. Projections and sound effects initiate genuine moments of fear, even if they occasionally lean a little too far into melodrama. Designer Ryan Dawson Laight also fills the shelves with hidden treasures: not just props, but books and objects. The colourful Romanian-English dictionary slid between the old volumes is a reminder of the elusive Count’s omnipresence.
It remains a mystery how compelling this production would be without the aid of its setting. Nevertheless, the London Library and Creation Theatre must be praised for creating such a vivid piece of theatre. Dracula is a unique experience, especially for those with a love of books and their creation, or who have a fascination with libraries and the secrets that they hold.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Richard Budd
The London Library until 2nd March
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