Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Horror at the Lyric - Dracula on the Belfast Stage

The clocks going back, the evenings getting darker earlier and winter approaching are sure signs that Halloween is near. With television and cinema listings brimming with the latest horror movie or classic black and white (and perhaps not so scary) films of the past. It seems theatre audiences were no different in liking a good scare.

Programme cover of the Lyric production of "The
Death of Dracula"
 The archive of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, shows a production of the Death of Dracula, a version of Bram Stoker's classic gothic novel , Dracula, by Canadian/English playwright (with the suitably spooky surname) Warren Graves. Staged at the Lyric as part of their spring Season in May 1980, the production was a European premiere of the play.

The programme note for the play, written by John Boyd, names Graves as being a founding member of Playwrights Canada and had a special interest in Irish drama, notably, Yeats, O'Casey and Brendan Behan. The play was directed at the Lyric by Tony Dinner and featured John Cunningham as Count Dracula, J.J. Murphy as Professor Van Helsing and Stella McCusker as Lucy Murray.

Graves was born in London, England 5 February 1933 and died in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada in February 2008. Graves moved with his wife and two children to Calgary, Alberta in 1964, and then to Edmonton where he worked as an assistant clerk at the Alberta Legislature. He became a prominent theatre artist and administrator with Walterdale Playhouse before quitting his government job to become a self-employed writer in 1974. 

In a previous interview with the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project in 2004 when asked about the task of adaption for a playwright entailed, Graves answered:

"Tell a thumping good story that appeals to the common man, make sure it has a beginning, middle and an end, and get the bums on the seats. Respect language as gold and not copper coin to be tossed on the counter.
In my other adaptations, my job has been to make theatrically possible a story that exists in a different medium. I suppose my position about adapting a theatrical work that already exists as a theatrical work would be ––"Why bother?" Why not take the theme and storyline and use them to write an original work? I recall the story of a distinguished Hollywood writer producing an excellent script about a cattle drive for John Wayne and gurgling with delight because nobody recognized that it was an 'adaptation' of Mutiny on the Bounty."
Page of script from Graves' "The Death of Dracula"

The play is an interesting adaptation of an often told and re-told story and offers an archival record of this story of the dark Count once more. The full script of Graves' the Death of Dracula is available as part of the Lyric Theatre Archive, T4/257.

Cast and creative listing for "The Death of Dracula"

For more from the Lyric archive, see catalogue in full here.