Northern Ballet

Choreography, direction and costume design David Nixon
31 May 2020
Available on BBC iPlayer 


Filmed at Leeds Playhouse
Film direction - Ross MacGibbon
Set design - Ali Allen
Lighting design - Tim Mitchell, Alastair West
Music - Alfred Schnittke, Sergei Rachmaninov, Avro Partei, Michael Daugherty

Dracula - Javier Torres
Old Dracula - Riku Ito
Mina Murray - Abigail Prudames
Lucy Westenra - Antoinette Brooks-Daw
Jonathan Harker - Lorenzo Trossello
Dr. Jack Seward - Joseph Taylor
Arthur Holmwood - Matthew Koon
Renfeld - Kevin Poeung
Dr Abraham van Helsing - Ashley Dixon
The Brides of Dracula - Rachael Gillespie, Sarah Chun, Minju Kang

As part of their Danceworks series, BBC4 screened a 2019 Halloween performance of Northern Ballet’s Dracula, a production in which no effort was spared to make it as gothic as inhumanely possible. Everywhere lurks darkness, fog, graveyards, castles, dramatic lighting, creepy make-up and, of course, lots of big teeth. David Nixon has taken a few liberties with Bram Stoker’s original story, including a very different ending for one of the characters, but has overall stayed relatively true to the novel.

You’re probably familiar with the story: it’s your typical ‘boy goes to Romania, gets held captive by a vampire in his castle, vampire comes to England, wreaks havoc in Whitby, captivates the local women, the local boys take exception, chase vampire back to Romania, kill vampire’. We’ve all been there. It’s a complicated tale in the original novel, with many characters and lots of information to impart, but Nixon has removed a lot of extraneous stuff and focused primarily on Dracula’s relationship with Mina, the fiancée of the boy stuck in the Romanian castle.

There are a few odd lapses in the storytelling; when she’s seduced by Dracula, why is Lucy, Mina’s friend, already wandering around a graveyard in the middle of the night in a gorgeous red dress, for example? And what exactly is the role of Renfield, a lunatic kept locked in a cage who seems to know, actually I’m not sure what he knows, really, but he seems quite central to the main plot (both things, I should add, are explained in the synopsis, but not on stage). That aside, the action is clear, compelling and builds nicely to the inevitable climax.

There are some excellent performances. Opening the show, the old Dracula, played by the excellent Riku Ito in a manner somewhere between Gary Oldman, Nosferatu and Gollum, is a beguiling mix of power, lust and fear. Antoinette Brooks-Daw’s Lucy makes the successful transition from pretty, naïve young thing to wanton wench with ease. Of the two leads, Abigail Prudames’ Mina could have done with more independence of spirit, something not made apparent until the final few seconds, and Javier Torres as the young Dracula has a ball as the seducing menace. Their finest moment together came in an extended love pas de deux, where the clanging, portentous score suddenly made way for the crystalline beauty of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, allowing a tangling of bodies constantly hovering betwixt tenderness and great violence. Of the remaining roles, Kevin Poeung was a magnetic personality as Renfield and Matthew Koon convinced thoroughly as Lucy’s distraught fiancé.

One thing that baffled me was the ending. Maybe it just doesn’t show up well on my TV screen, but I couldn’t see what happens to Dracula; he’s chased into a murky part of the castle and a few moments later everyone starts congratulating themselves. I think it’s the daylight that nails him, but he’s been stood in front of lights just as strong before. Never mind, I got the meat of it. On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable watch with evocative sets, a narrative of great impetus and some characters - some characters you can really get your teeth into...

Trailer for Northern Ballet's Dracula