Theatre reviews: Dracula – Mina’s Reckoning | Forever Home

Liz Kettle is a wonderful, androgynous Dracula in a magnificent new version of Bram Stoker’s timeless story, writes Joyce McMillan

Dracula – Mina’s Reckoning, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen *****

Forever Home, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

It’s now a full generation, and more, since the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh first staged Liz Lochhead’s 1985 feminist take on the Dracula story; and it’s therefore more than time for another brilliant Scottish woman writer, Morna Pearson, to offer a ground-breaking 21st century response to Bram Stoker’s iconic novel, shot through with the profound questioning of gender identity, and the deep anger at continuing mental and physical violence against women, that marks out the feminism of the #metoo era.

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Dracula - Mina's Reckoning PIC: Mihaela BodlovicDracula - Mina's Reckoning PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Dracula - Mina's Reckoning PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

Pearson is a north-east of Scotland playwright, who writes in a vivid and fearless 21st century Doric; and her version of Dracula for the National Theatre of Scotland, titled Dracula – Mina’s Reckoning, featuring an all-female and non-binary cast, draws on Bram Stoker’s links with the north-east to offer a Scottish version of the story, in which many of the characters – including the heroine Mina, brilliantly played by Danielle Jam – speak Doric, and Dracula’s ship of death runs ashore in Aberdeenshire, rather than Whitby.

At the core of the story, though, is the perennial theme of devoted friends Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, and their rebellion against the looming constraints of respectable Victorian marriage, to which they are soon expected to succumb. Lucy’s sexual restlessness leads to her early seduction by Dracula, and to her re-emergence as one of the blood-devouring undead. Mina, by contrast, stages a heroic intellectual and moral resistance to Dracula’s horror, until the moment when she realises that even her male allies want to keep her locked in a prison of conventional womanhood.

All of this is brilliantly captured in Sally Cookson’s intense, fast-paced and sensational two-hour production, staged on Kenneth MacLeod’s powerful set of dangerously tilted and towering platforms, and featuring dazzling use of light and video, as well as magnificent ensemble work by the whole company – choreographed by Vicky Manderson – in the scenes where they play the patients in the local mental asylum.

And over it all towers Liz Kettle’s wonderful androgynous Dracula, a seducer both male and female, offering Lucy, and then Mina, a freedom that seems like death, and a death that seems like freedom. The political resonances of that offer, in our time, are infinite; and mark the arrival of a magnificent new version of Stoker’s timeless story, made for the age in which, and through which, we must live.

Forever Home PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken WanForever Home PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Forever Home PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The fierce restless energy of young women in their teens also lies at the heart of the show that opens this autumn’s Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season. Forever Home, by Pauline Lockhart and Alan Penman, is a brief and beautiful 45 minute play with songs, partly inspired by their own experience as adoptive parents, in which a single mum played with terrific empathy and skill by Christina Strachan, and her adopted daughter Caitlin – superbly played by rising music theatre star Kirsty Findlay – reach a crisis in their relationship, as Caitlin struggles to deal with the fact that at 16, she can now make contact with her birth mother if she wishes.

These are wrenching issues, which go to the heart of parenthood and its infinite demands; but Lockhart and Penman deliver a masterclass in how to handle them with deep seriousness, brilliant humour, and a quiet sense of poetry, embodied in the songs. Alongside Strachan and Findlay, Chloe Hodgson is in inspired form as every other character in the story, from Caitlin’s rowdy friend Nicole to their school headmistress; in a show that speaks so directly, honestly and sweetly to the contradictory and sometimes painful stuff of family life that it genuinely leaves hardly a dry eye in the house.

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Dracula – Mina’s Reckoning is at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen until 9 September, and on tour to Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness, Dundee and Edinburgh until 14 October. Forever Home is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 9 September, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, 11-16 September, and the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, 21-23 September.