Kathryn Stewart (as Dr. 'Anna' Van Helsing)

New approach to haunting Halloween classic

RCTC's Ellie King revives the original stage adaptation of Dracula for a run at Surrey Arts Centre and other Lower Mainland venues

The original vampire thriller, Dracula, is back and bat-winging it’s way to Surrey – as well as venues in Vancouver and Maple Ridge – this fall.

The shape-shifting Count is scheduled to alight at Surrey Arts Centre as a pre-Halloween treat Oct. 8-10, followed by runs at Vancouver’s Metro Theatre (Oct. 14-24) and at the ACT, Maple Ridge (Oct. 27-31).

For this production Ellie King, artistic director of Royal Canadian Theatre Company, has dusted off  the 1927 John Balderston-Hamilton Deane stage version of Bram Stoker’s famed gothic novel.

It was this play, it should be noted, that brought Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi to wide public attention, and won him a Hollywood career – not to mention the curse of eternal typecasting, and endless imitations of his unforgettable accent. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should also note that both King and this writer also appeared as actors in a White Rock Players Club revival of the same script – more years ago than either of us care to remember).

But in once again reanimating the transformational Transylvanian (played in this production by Kurtis Maguire), the ever-imaginative King, well known for her thrillers, farces and pantos, is not simply resting on past laurels or interpretations – she’s offering audiences some fascinating new twists.

Not only has the show been set in a “Steampunk universe” – which suggests all kinds of possibilities for stage and costume design – but Dracula’s old nemesis, the vampire expert  Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, has been reincarnated as the beautiful, and equally mysterious, ‘Dr. Anna Van Helsing’ (Kathryn Stewart).

Her presence, King is betting, will add a whole other dimension to the vampire’s struggle to conquer innocent Lucy (Elyse Maloway), fiance of Jonathan Harker (Surrey’s Adam Olgui) and daughter of Dr. Seward (Paul Fisher) who presides over a sanitarium in the English countryside.

“If you look at the original Dracula story by Stoker, it has a lot to do with sexual repression in the Victorian era,” King said.

“But it tends to be one-sided – Dracula interacting with, and preying on, young women. I wondered how it would be if he were to meet a strong woman who is comfortable in her own sexuality.

“The scales are more evenly weighted now. Anna Van Helsing is a very strong, mature woman, and in strength of character, at least, she is Dracula’s equal – and there is also the possibility of some sexual tension between them.”

King said her interpretation is being helped immeasurably by the women she has cast as leads. Stewart’s “commanding stage presence’ brings out all the possibilities of  Van Helsing, she said, while Maloway is able to balance a depiction of the typical ‘Victorian shrinking heroine’ with a growing sense that Lucy is being affected by the pull of dark urges.

“Elyse is very good – she can turn on a dime,” she said.

Maguire is also strong as the title character, she said.

“He’s done a lot of regional theatre and he’s a really good Dracula – he manages to be menacingly charming. He gets that Dracula is a chameleon who assumes an outward identity to attract victims – he will appear to be whatever people want him to be. And we’re also exploring Dracula’s animal side.”

Also cast are Aaron Paul Stewart as Dracula’s maniacal helper Renfield, with Hannah Williams and Jamie O’Neill supplying comedy relief as the superstitious maid Miss Wells and sanitarium attendant Butterworth.

King notes that, at a time when other regional theatre groups are going through a period of contraction and regrouping as a result of dwindling box-office returns, RCTC is actually finding it beneficial to present a three-show subscription season.

In addition to Dracula, the current season also includes the traditional British Christmas pantomime Puss In Boots and the farce Love, Sex and the I.R.S. in March – all of which will will be at Surrey Arts Centre.

“Surrey Arts Centre has been very welcoming,” she said. “By doing a three-show season we’re making a significant investment. And we do have a lot of supporters – we’ve developed a clientele.”

King added that she has found that touring the same play to several Lower Mainland venues allows her to amortize the costs of each production over the entire tour, making the bottom line on each run – including theatre rental – far more practical for the company.

“We’ll be looking to expand our tour in 2016-17,” she added.

Dracula runs at Surrey Arts Centre (13750 88 Ave.) from Thursday Oct. 8 to Saturday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. – with an additional matinee Saturday (Oct. 10) at 4 p.m.

Tickets ($28, $18 seniors, $85 family pack of four tickets) are available online at tickets.surrey.ca or by phone at 604-501-5566.

For more information on other venues and other RCTC shows, visit www.rctheatreco.com

 

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