Stage-tech takes Creation’s Dracula to a Brave New World
Recent smash hit – Creation’s ‘Dracula’ – is a new adaption of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror, which was staged deep in the bowels of Oxford’s Blackwell’s Bookshop from 3rd March – 14th April 2018. Performed by just two actors, Sophie Greenham and Christopher York, the inventive use of space coupled with innovative audio-visual design and cutting edge technology conjured up a beast of a show that seemed to hold the whole city under it’s spell.
The stakes were high as Science Oxford’s own vampire hunter, Autumn Neagle, went along for press night and – with unexpected front row seats – came up-close and face to fang with a mesmerizing and immersive performance to die for. She caught up with director Helen Tennison, and Creation Theatre’s Stage Manager, Lucy Quinton, to unearth some more juicy morsels to get your teeth into… (no spoilers)
Director Helen Tennison
From Nosferatu to Hammer Horror’s Christopher Lee – the image of Dracula is firmly rooted in our psyche; Who is Your favourite on-screen Dracula – and how did you go about creating your own personal vision for 2018?
I love taking popular themes and reframing them, so whilst I don’t have a favourite interpretation of Dracula, I did watch a lot of Dracula film clips and Vampire TV series as part of my preparation. Films have proved quite a large part of the inspiration for this piece, the independent 40’s heroine, some Hitchcock inspired suspense and bursts of shocking horror. I’ve enjoyed using and questioning perceptions of the vampire from Nosferatu to Buffy.
How did the artistic process work alongside the technical whilst devising the play?
The technical aspects of the play were very much a part of it’s conception. Kate Kerrow, the writer, wrote the piece with Eva’s work as a videographer in mind, we’ve all worked together before and enjoy creating as a team. The potentials of the technology available to us define the parameters and opportunities for creation, we’d love to spend months in a room just experimenting!
The physicality of the 2 actors swapping roles and the stagecraft in the Norrington Room was brilliant, it was interesting the stage was by the theology section .. was that fun to choreograph and what were the challenges?
The two actors are both very talented and adept at transformation – essential for a piece like this! I love working in unusual spaces, they offer inspiration and opportunity – I often find it’s the bigger challenges that force me into new creative discoveries.
The visuals acted like a third actor on set, taking on the personas of Lucy and Dracula –how did that come about?
Lucy Askew, Chief Exec at Creation had the idea of staging Dracula without Dracula, she realised that what we don’t see can be far more frightening.
Dracula is a fight against ‘the monster’ and could be seen as psychological, relationships, mental health / depression, physical illness, addiction – in your view, who – or what – is the monster and how do we fight an unseen foe?
Yes, all those things! In particular, I see the monster as repressed, guilty sexual desires (vampires are often very sexual). In our production Jonathan and Mina begin as a sexually repressed couple, by the end they embrace the sexual side of themselves, their shadow side, their amorality – this could be seen as entirely positive. Do we want to fight the unseen foe, or should we stop being so afraid, embrace it and have some fun?
Van Helsing – ‘professor, doctor, scientist, philosopher, and man of faith‘ – seems excited by experimenting with modern advances in medicine – what technological tricks do you think he would try today?
He would be experimenting with anything he get his hands on, and all without legal permissions or any thought for Health and Safety. AI would be his chosen field. Can AI ever create consciousness, will robots come to dominate humans? He’d love that.
We need the facts – from a science point of view – will garlic actually ward off vampires?
It’s a proven scientific fact. I myself eat garlic at every possible opportunity and have never suffered any vampire related issues.
What will a Dracula of the future be like – do you think he will go vegan.
He will be the last Butcher standing in an environmentally responsible world.
What are you working on next?
A Midsummer Nights Dream, for Midsummer Scene Festival, which takes place in a stunning medieval fort in Dubrovnik.
Great to spend the evening in Blackwells – what’s your favourite book?
I love Blackwells, it’s a treasure trove, and am a voracious reader – so trying to choose a favourite book is a painful impossibility. There are writers that have had a big influence on me, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Woolf and more recently, Rebecca Solnit.
What has been your best audience response so far?
I love it when they scream.
Creation Theatre’s Stage Manager,
What programmes/ equipment did you use?
We used Isadora for the AV side of the show, Qlab for sound and an Ion desk for lights. We also used a hand-held smart projector called Pico which is new technology and fun to use!
How easy did the actors find working with the tech in front of a live audience?
It takes extra time in rehearsals to make sure that the actors feel confident with using the Pico and interacting with the technical elements that surround them. This was particularly the case for Sophie as she had to act alongside the tech and her digital self, which must have been really weird. I did a lot of problem-solving instances when the tech faltered whilst continuing to make the show happen. Making sure that the show can run whilst tech is misbehaving can be a little stressful – imagine when your phone freaks out, but that happens in front of over 100 people!
How does the use of tech offer new opportunities in performance – what’s exciting for the future?
The Smart Projectors and the possibilities that they have for interacting between live actors and Audio Visual is really exciting!
What would be the ultimate tech-enhanced play you would love to work on?
I would love to use technology to enhance classic stories; the ghost in Hamlet, for example, could have so many possibilities.
What’s your favourite bit of kit?
My GO button – which means that I can operate various systems though one button. It’s pretty useful!
How did you get into the job – any tips for young people?
I got involved with theatre by becoming a part of school shows and getting work experience in both amateur and professional environments; I think getting experience at an amateur level is the most accessible way to start in the industry. If you’re more interested in the technical side of things, there are some great trade shows with all the latest gadgets and tech that you can attend.
What prop did Renfeld bite into? (there were screams)
I shouldn’t be telling you this… so don’t tell Creation I’m giving away trade secrets but it was called a fake artificial sparrow (realistic taxidermy) bought from eBay and then we had loose feathers (that are usually used in fishing) for the top to create the loose feathered effect (Chris said these used to get stuck to the top of his mouth.. gross).
Here at Science Oxford we’re incredibly excited about what’s up next from Creation HQ! From the creative team behind last year’s sell-out 1984 comes a brand-new adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic Brave New World, staged in Oxford’s futuristic Westgate Centre 1 July – 11 August 2018. Watch this space…
Photos: Richard Budd