Dracula by Bram Stoker, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 14-21 October 2012
Jessica Dromgoole's production of the Stoker classic began boldly, with Count Dracula (Nicky Henson) setting the scene, his dulcet tones casting a sinister shadow over the forthcoming action, accompanied by music (performed by Adriana Festeu).  He confidently believed in his power to control human beings: there was little in the forthcoming action that persuaded us otherwise.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz constructed the story as a series of parallel narratives, told by Dracula, Dr. Seward (Charles Edwards), and Lucy Westenra (Scarlett Brookes) among others.  This not only gave the drama a considerable amount of tonal variety, but it suggested how the characters' understanding of the events taking place around them was inevitably partial. This strategy made a trenchant comment on the limitations of human reason; dark forces existed beyond the limits of civilization that they could not control.
The sound-effects helped reinforce that impression: the sound of Count Dracula sucking the blood of his victims was truly ghoulish, like a predator mauling its prey. The distinctions between beasts and human beings no longer seemed to matter: in this world only the fittest (as well as the fastest) survived.
The action moved swiftly from the mundane world of Whitby to the wilds of Transylvania - a wild world where people spoke with foreign accents and women (especially Lucy and Mina Murray (Ellie Kendrick)) were in perpetual danger. Dromgoole's production underlined the novel's political overtones - at the time when it first appeared, Transylvania was part of the Ottoman Empire, a fearsome world of The Other perpetually threatening western European stability.  Count Dracula was the perfect embodiment of such fears, quite literally sucking the blood out of his (European) victims and thereby subjecting them to his unearthly rule.  The politics were further underlined by the emphasis on Christian religious symbols - one of the few ways in which Dracula's powers could be resisted.  The implication was clear: Dracula's (Ottoman) world was a pagan place, to be rejected at all costs.
However the task was not as easy as it might seem.  With his soft, hissing voice, Henson's Dracula was devilishly attractive.  Lucy moaned softly as she slept; clearly she was experiencing the kind of erotic pleasure that her fiance Arthur (Joe Sims) could never provide. Dromgoole underlined the ambiguity of the novel: although dealing with the dark side of life, it offers an implicit criticism of late Victorian society, wherein people were expected to suppress their emotions in the interests of 'propriety.'
Although the plot of Dracula is a familiar one, I venture to suggest that it works better on radio, as compared to television or the cinema, as listeners use their collective imaginations to conjure up an image of the Count and his devilish rule.  This was certainly true of this well-cast, fast-moving production.