When lead actor and co-adaptor Nick Skubij took on the titular role, he wanted to dispel the schlocky image that has come to be associated with vampires. “You say you're doing ‘Dracula’ and people's minds over time have gone to these camp, black-and-white, ‘Nosferatu’-type films.
“Somehow over time it's been shuffled around and come to represent something a little bit camp and schlock; highly theatrical but perhaps not as frightening as the author intended it to be back in the day.”
From Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman to Leslie Nelson, Robert Pattinson and Sesame Street’s The Count, Bram Stoker’s original vision of an immortal, night-stalking, blood-sucking villain has been twisted and contorted into something almost laughable. Nick says he and his team really wanted to tap into the initial sense of fear and horror readers must have felt when introduced to ‘Dracula’ in 1897.
“We really spoke long and hard about what it must have been like when the story was written,” he says. “To be reading the story and coming to this character, these concepts and themes for the first major time that something had represented the vampire.
“We spoke about how frightening and terrifying that must have been in the times that it was – this concept of a character that sucks blood and the underlying sexual tones. Now we've got things like ‘Twilight’ where the vampire has been hyper-sexualised and come to represent something quite romantic and illicit and a bad boy and wanting what you shouldn't for young people who are into vampire fiction. We really wanted to take the story back to its roots and get into that sense of horror and the sense of thrill.”
As an actor, Nick’s characterisation of Count Dracula is about building tension and suspense. Where previous incarnations have relied on overacting and theatrics, Nick maintains the fearful presence of Dracula is best portrayed through what is not said and done rather than what is.
“What I tried to do was underplay everything,” he says, “and it's one of those characters where he's spoken about a lot and he's the topic of everybody's problems and he's very much the central idea in this story, but he doesn’t have a hell of a lot of stage time funnily enough for someone who is the title character of the play.
“What I figured and what we discussed with our director again was that sometimes it's in the things that aren’t said and aren’t done that can create that real sense of fear and not knowing what's going to happen next.”
Set primarily in dark and stormy Transylvania, the stage production harnesses traditional horror techniques through the use of darkness, light and shadow to create a physical world that pulls the viewer into the story.
“There are shadows and glimpses of things that come but before they establish themselves fully they’re gone again,” Nick says.
“There's lots of suggestion that just around the corner there's something that's going to jump out at you and that's really what we tried to achieve as well, not so much horror but that thriller nature of keeping people on the edge of their seats and not going to just gore and cutting people's heads off, because that's kind of gratuitous, but keeping it all psychological and keeping it all quite internal.”
‘Dracula’ Tour DatesFri 11 Aug – Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)
15 Aug-2 Sep – Queensland Performing Arts Centre
7-16 Sep – Adelaide Festival Centre
Wed 20 Sep – Barossa Arts & Convention Centre