Horror is being born this week – and Elgin-born playwright Morna Pearson is anxious.
For rehearsals have just started for her newest work, Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning – her first large-scale production set for a world premiere at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre.
Right now the creative team, from actors to director Sally Cookson, to Morna herself are putting the flesh on the bones of her riveting script, which transports the action of Bram Stoker’s iconic gothic horror to the north-east of Scotland.
“There is a lot of emotion, excitement is one of them, and a healthy amount of nerves,” said Morna at this milestone moment for the play, a co-production between the National Theatre Of Scotland, Aberdeen Performing Art in association with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre.
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning will have its world premiere in Aberdeen
“There is excitement about what’s going to come up. Not everything is set in stone so there’s room for developing things and refining the story and it’s a really exciting team of creatives and actors.”
Adding to the excitement and nerves is the fact the show will premiere in September at His Majesty’s – the place where Morna first fell in love with theatre – before embarking on an extensive tour, including Eden Court in Inverness and Dundee Rep Theatre.
“This will be my first north-east debut and it means a lot to have my first large-scale theatre production opening in Aberdeen,” said Morna.
“His Majesty’s is where, when I did drama in high school, we did our theatre trips. That’s where I saw musicals and other productions and it was part of my inspiration to go and study drama and then become a writer.”
Morna’s take on Dracula, alongside acclaimed director Sally, offers a unique perspective. It is rooted firmly in the north-east, set in 1897 in an insane asylum for women in Aberdeenshire – the cast is all female or non-binary – and told through the eyes of Mina Murray, who is seeking refuge from the terrors she has encountered.
Morna Pearson’s north-east Dracula will have horror – and light humour
“You can expect horror, light humour just to balance out the entertainment because it can’t be full on scary or dark. But it will explore themes such as power, abuses of power, trauma and addiction as well,” said Morna, adding the work was very much based around Aberdeen and Cruden Bay.
“I think all my writing has a north-east twist because that’s where my imagination grew up. It constantly provides inspiration as a place and I’m more comfortable writing characters that are from the north-east. So Aberdeen takes the place of London and Cruden Bay takes the place of Whitby, from the novel.”
But make no mistake, Morna intends her Doric-infused Dracula carry the same chilling scares as Stoker’s novel as Mina – played by Aberdeen’s own rising star Danielle Jam – unfolds her tale of terror.
“The novel is structured brilliantly because there’s so much information unknown that slowly unfolds and I’ve tried to do that on stage, so it will have that Gothic horror novel feel, with that brooding tension and sense of unease. It will definitely have moments of horror.”
Morna Pearson went back to Bram Stoker’s novel for inspiration
Morna is aware there have been countless screen versions of Dracula, first published in 1897, from Bella Lugosi via Christopher Lee to, most recently, Claes Bang in a BBC version.
“I have seen some of those versions in the past but I didn’t try to rewatch them or dwell on them. I wanted to use the novel as the primary inspiration, because so many versions have made up their own rules,” she said.
Morna added: “I wanted the freedom to make decisions without worrying it seemed like I had copied something else. I’ve tried to stay away from the cliches and remind ourselves about what is in the novel.”
As well as going back to the book’s roots, Morna also followed in the footsteps of Bram Stoker himself, with a recent photoshoot at Slains Castle – the historic spot at Cruden Bay which sparked the author’s imagination.
“You can understand why it inspired Castle Dracula. Despite the fact there’s not much left of it, you could still feel the rooms were narrow and there’s a creepy basement and the octagonal room that’s mentioned in the novel.”
But it’s her home town of Elgin that feeds into the heart of her Dracula – not least the humour that flashes through the play like seams of silver against the dark, said Morna.
“There is a sense of humour to Elgin, that no matter how dark life gets there’s always humour and that runs throughout my work in general.”
Creative team honing Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning ready for its tour
For now, Morna is hard at work with the rest of the team, honing Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning ready for its world premiere and tour.
“I think it’s exciting to get different people’s perspectives on it. I hope audiences will be entertained and thrilled by the production – and scared.”
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning has its world premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre from Saturday September 2 to Saturday September 9, before going to the Theatre Royal Glasgow, from September 13 to 16, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, from September 21 to 23, Eden Court in Inverness on September 29 to 30, Dundee Rep Theatre on October 6 and 7, Edinburgh Festival Theatre on October 12 and 14, then Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, on October 19 and 21.
For more information visit nationaltheatrescotland.com