Bram Stoker’s Dracula has a north-east twist to it in a new take on the classic tale.
“Cruden Bay is where Bram Stoker wrote some of the novel and Slains Castle influenced the description of Dracula’s castle,” says actor Danielle Jam, who takes a lead role in the National Theatre of Scotland’s adaptation of Stoker’s horror story, which opens in Aberdeen this week.
“He’s said to have been inspired by the jagged rocks poking out the water and looking like sharp teeth!”
In this new version, written by north-east writer Morna Pearson and co-conceived by director Sally Cookson, Dracula travels to Aberdeen.
‘I feel connected to this story’
“A lot of historical locations in our story still exist today,” says Danielle. “Like the Aberdeen Female Orphan Asylum, where my character Mina grew up, is now Harlaw Academy.
“Mina also spends a lot of time reading about birds at Aberdeen Library. I feel connected to this story because of the Scots leid, it’s what I spoke growing up, and now I get to speak it again in this show.”
Set in an Aberdeenshire psychiatric hospital in 1897, the tale sees a young woman named Mina Murray take refuge there, recounting to the staff and patients her terrifying encounter with Dracula. The cast are all women and non-binary actors.
Joining Danielle in the cast line-up is Liz Kettle who plays Dracula.
‘The characters go through a lot’
“Mina’s a schoolteacher at an orphanage,” says Danielle. “She’s classed as a ‘new woman’ of the time, who wants to live a life that’s free from the dictation of how women are told to behave in 1890.
“She wants to see the world, be independent and have a career, but she’s expected to marry and leave her education behind. Dracula starts to infiltrate her life and pursues her, offering freedom in a different way.
“I’ve enjoyed learning who Mina is and getting to develop her relationship with the other characters. It’s definitely challenging me, as it’s such an intense role.
“The characters go through a lot, so we’ve been supporting each other as much as we can in rehearsals. It’s taking on all the rage those who have been ‘othered’ are feeling at this time and using it as fuel to drive her forward.”
Reflecting the location, three of the cast are originally from the north-east.
A rising star in Scottish theatre
Danielle grew up in Aberdeen and went to a drama group at her local community centre, performing in school shows and with Aberdeen Youth Music Theatre and Harlequin Productions.
She studied at North East Scotland College, before getting into Queen Margaret University and Edinburgh Napier, and her star is rising fast in Scottish theatre.
The cast also features Ros Watt and Ailsa Davidson, both from the area. Ailsa Davidson is from Ellon, and went to AYMT too, before studying at Guildford School of Acting. Her CV includes Heathers: The Musical in the West End.
“I play Lucy Westenra, Mina’s best friend,” says Ailsa. “Women of this time period had very little autonomy and Lucy is an example of this. She’s marrying because it’s her duty, she wants to remain young and free with her best friend, but ultimately life is about to change. She’s one of Dracula’s victims and this ultimately fuels a huge grief and rage that furthers Mina’s journey.
“The storytelling of this piece involves lots of elements,” Ailsa continues when asked what audiences can expect from the production.
“The sound design, movement, videography, set and costume design all play a huge part in the experience. it’s going to be an incredible spectacle, as well as capturing the classic horror that Stoker created in the novel.”
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, from September 2 to 9. Eden Court, Inverness, from September 28 to 30. For more information go to www.nationaltheatrescotland.com