Dracula goes steampunk at the Surrey Arts Centre
Culture / October 27, 2015
A modern twist on a classic scary story
From Oct. 8 to 10, the Surrey Arts Centre put on a very particular adaptation of Dracula, a play based on the classic novel by Bram Stoker.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” says director Ellie King, who used the original script from the 1929 play adaptation, but decided on a particularly trendy deviation from the original. King’s iteration of Dracula is set in a steampunk universe—an interesting way to give the classic story a modern, or faux-modern, twist.
Steampunk is a genre that blends technology and design inspired by 19th century steam-powered machinery which has grown increasingly popular over the last couple of years. Even Bard on the Beach featured a steampunk adaptation of A Comedy Of Errors over the summer. In this case, not only do Dracula and steampunk share a gothic theme, Dracula was written in the very century which steampunk is based on.
This universe was illustrated primarily through the costumes worn by the play’s leading cast. Anna Van Helsing is the first character to wear a complete steampunk outfit while the others begin to wear more Victorian-era gear as the play goes on.
“As they believe more in the fact that he is a vampire, they are drawn more into this universe so they become more steampunk as the play goes on,” says King.
However, what really brought Dracula’s steampunk universe to life was the set. Gears and bold shapes were painted onto the walls, and at every shift in scenery the play came alive with the movement of the changing set. For example, the desk in Dr. Seward’s office was on railway tracks, and when the office set had to change, the actors pulled a lever to activate the tracks.
“This was a challenging set because it has to go from being the office into the boudoir and then into the crypt,” says King. “I came up with the idea of just flipping it and making it a part of the action. It became a part of the universe so that things are not what they seem to be.”
Another twist in King’s adaptation is the character of Van Helsing, Dracula’s nemesis. Traditionally, Helsing is a male but in this version King has changed the gender, a decision which provided more depth and modernization to the script. And while this was a welcomed change for the character itself, a female Helsing also altered the relationship between the play’s primary characters.
“I was interested in exploring what would happen if in fact Dracula’s antagonist was a woman,” says King. “There was that sexual attraction because he uses that to pull people to him. So I wanted to explore if the person fighting him is also attracted to him.”
Helsing is a lot of things—strong, smart, and independent. Allowing herself to be swayed by Dracula shows that she is human and that even the strongest willed people can be persuaded.
As for Dracula himself, he was not your modern 21st century vampire. He was portrayed as a dangerous creature with no empathy, which worked well to bring fear into the play.
“We tried to explore him more as an animal,” says King. “We wanted to go back to the roots of the myth, which is that it’s a really nasty monster that feeds on humans and destroys them.”
In other words, he didn’t sparkle.