Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula revolutionised and influenced the world of literature, exploring the polarity of sexuality and religion through a character that is both eroticised and divine. The clash between sexuality and religion, between modernity and tradition, between change and uniformity, is always present in the arts, and in Zen Zen Zo’s production of Dracula, this culture clash is explored and explodes into a deliciously innovative piece of performance.
Directed by Steven Mitchell Wright, with Assistant Direction and Writing by Stephen Atkins and Tora Hylands, Zen Zen Zo’s Dracula is presented at The Old Museum as the resulting production from the company’s annual creative development season (In The Raw). The performance is heavily based on the original novel, even the point that it follows the epistolary novel structure of using letters and journal readings to tell the story. An infamous tale, Dracula is the epic story of the blood-sucking vampire Count Dracula (played by Kevin Kiernan-Molloy). Narrated mainly by Mina (Aideen McCartney), the young woman reads from her husband Jonathon’s (Kevin Spink) letters and journals of a time when he first travelled to Transylvania to provide legal advice for the illustrious Count. Upon arriving at the castle, Jonathon’s letters explain how Dracula forced him to stay at the castle for one month. Meanwhile, Mina also tells of how her good friend Lucy (Peta Ward) is growing ever distant and is soon to marry the asylum psychiatrist Dr. Seward (Rob Thwaites), who is obsessed with studying his freaky patient Renfield (Mark Hill). Jonathon escapes Dracula’s castle and returns to England, whereupon he finds his wife’s friend Lucy in an abominable state somewhere between life and death. Seward consults his friend Van Helsing (Simon Tate) who recognises Lucy’s symptoms as having been bitten by a vampire. After Lucy dies, she too transforms into a vampire, and thus it is confirmed that Dracula has also come to England. Following Lucy’s death Dracula bites Mina, thus Jonathon, Van Helsing and Seward must find a way to stop Dracula, lest Mina meet the same fate as her childhood friend.
The performance remains fairly true to the original novel, however the epistolary structure in a performative mode is almost detrimental to the actors ability to play out the story. Zen Zen Zo’s Dracula generally follows a structure whereby Mina will narrate an event, and then the audience witness the actors playing out the situation Mina describes. What results is a repetitive structure that does not often deviate from narration, movement sequence, narration, movement sequence, narration etc… It almost became pantomimic. The moments of narration were so strikingly dissimilar to the surreal, heightened movement sequences that they somewhat toned down the performance, rather than enhancing it. Nevertheless, it was an effective convention for tying the multiple stories and timelines together. The moments of narration just didn’t seem as striking as the rest of the performance. Perhaps therein lies a theatrical clash between the simple and the extreme.
Zen Zen Zo’s Dracula is undoubtedly a visual spectacle. The costume and set design provided by Angie White and Steven Mitchell Wright perfectly capture the imbalanced world set somewhere between highly sexual and perversely conservative. Upon entering The Old Museum, the audience are swept into a living museum of Victorian England. White faced ladies escort the audience around the space, singing and laughing as if we attended a grand ball. Surrounding the audience are various sets, including a fantastically posed ‘still-life’ of Dracula and his three vampire brides, all baring their teeth and holding physically demanding positions. The audience are expected to move around the space, and are regularly ushered into different parts of the room throughout the performance. The physical prowess of these Suzuki trained performers is thoroughly evident throughout the performance.
Kevin Kiernan-Molloy as Dracula has a beautiful, fluid physicality. His body ripples across the floor in an other-worldly fashion, appearing both beastlike and majestic. Additionally, Kiernan-Molloy performs surprising and amazing physical feats, which for fear of spoiling the surprise for anyone who wishes to see the production, I will not mention what they are here. Needless to say however, you will be impressed. Kevin Spink, who plays Jonathon, gives one of the strongest character performances, and is also a delight to witness his movement. There is a fantastic choreographed fight scene between Dracula and Jonathon, which again has to be seen to be fully believed. The grotesque nature of Renfield (Hill) is a direct opposite to the clinical Dr. Seward (Thwaites), providing an electric relationship between two men where there is not much direct communication. The Vampire brides were hot. The lustful, exposed flesh of the young, toned bodies enhanced the innate sexuality of Dracula. They were a visual delicacy to behold.
Perhaps one of the most surprising highlights of the production was the incredible vocal performance delivered by the ensemble. The performance concludes in a thrilling, chilling rendition of Broken Wings, that is a combination between latin hymn and pop music, creating a sound that fills the space with such power and energy that one cannot help but be overcome by the emotion of these beautiful voices.
There was an underlying layer of homoeroticism to the piece, with a hinted at a relationship between Dracula and Jonathon. While this relationship is never fully brought into the open, it certainly opens some curious eyes towards the possibility of Dracula’s obsession with Jonathon’s life as being something more than just jealousy and bloodlust. Ever playing on the relationship between sexuality and the church, Mitchell Wright’s choice to include a homoerotic feeling to Dracula certainly enlightens and breaks convention.
Zen Zen Zo’s Dracula is one of the freshest and liveliest pieces of performance to come out of Brisbane this year. How ironic that is based on one of the oldest and bloodiest stories of all time.
Zen Zen Zo present
Old Museum Building | Cnr Bowen Bridge Rd and Gregory Tce, Spring Hill
June 27 - July 14, 2007
$28 adult/ $22 concession/ $20 Group booking (10+ people) School Bookings Available.
(07) 3252 5540