Insider’s look at Dracula! : A love note

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It boasted the most humorous spin on the 19th Century blood drenched piece of gothic literature: Dracula. Presented by the newbie theatre company ‘Ananda Drama’ with just 5 actors and a handful of backstage hands in the guise of werewolves, it truly was a novel albeit strange experience. Not since Thirty Nine Steps was staged had we witnessed this caliber of theatrical swashbuckling.

Remembering the departed

Most memorable though are the days that lead to the 2-night performance at the Lionel Wendt (21st & 22nd November). The play had already been performed back in July. Following the decision to re-stage, the writers Nishantha De Silva, Rajitha Hettiarachchi, Ishtartha Wellaboda, and Thushara Hettihamu the director hit a road block. It was clear that some of the actors were unlikely to resume their roles owing to other commitments. Off went Eraj Gunawardane who did a splendid job in embodying a mild mannered solicitor Jonathan Harker, a naïve Lucy Westenra , and half a dozen more minor characters all in 1 ½ hours with astounding verve. As did Charith Dissanayake who played annoyed station master, seductive bride to the titular Dracula, love-struck Dr. Seward inter alia with commendable stage presence.

Chem-mystery

Lithmal Jayawardane and Aneeq Hashim stepped in to save the day which heralded a month long journey full of laughter, tears and the usual off stage drama/antics that any play would entail. The downside to re-shuffling an ensemble may be the time it takes for actors to recreate the chemistry they shared with bygone ones. This may be particularly arduous if the ensemble is a small group which was the case for Dracula. What a skeptical outsider ought to understand is that even the most trivial thing the actors experience together; be it an inside joke about a fellow actor, be it frustration towards the director born through his perceived uppity-ness, or a soulful conversation about how life in general is meaningless, may go a long way in establishing trust among them. At the end of the day any serious actor stepping into a role will do more than recite his/her thoroughly crammed lines. He/she will make the audience ‘feel’. This is where chemistry comes into play.

The three original actors Dinoo Wickramage, Vishan Gunawardane and Nandun Dissanayake who were reprising their roles certainly had to face this challenge. Dinoo who played Mina Harker the ill fated fiancée of Jonathan Harker did offer more than a casual ‘hello’ to his onstage husband-to-be at the beginning of a day’s rehearsal. Vishan Gunawardane reprising his much lauded role of Professor Van Helsing, took every opportunity to make hilarious references to movies and showcase his wonderful gift in singing to everybody’s absolute delight. The 2 new actors were certainly accommodated. Everybody was of the understanding that if the ship goes down, they all go down with it.

Preparation

Apart from the regular script reading and gabble, the actors were invited to improve upon the original material by experimenting with blocking and delivery: hiccups, jokes and laughter galore.

One more week to go, what are we doing?!

The last week before the show dawned without warning. This is usually the time everybody starts to panic. “Vishan, I’m missing my Dracula cape!”, “What, ticket sale is slow? Remind me why we are doing this if nobody’s coming to watch us?”, “Who took the props?” All beautiful chaos. The reality kicks in, adrenaline gushing, faces and fists clenched: everybody could do with a nice scream. In steps the supporting crew to pamper the hot headed actors: rehearsal space is duly mopped and cleaned, tea is brewed, biscuit packets are opened, costumes and wigs and props are dry cleaned and neatly arranged. Bless their blessed hearts!

Opening night it is!

Performance day: It hits you like a cheek splitting slap. The anticipated but dreaded performance night has finally arrived. The crew busy themselves with logistics. A light rehearsal is hurriedly put together. 5.30 pm: Actors are herded off to the make-up room. 7.15 pm: The director, the writers, the backstage crew, the 5 actors who are about to commence playing 50 odd roles join hands in a circle. A hearty, tear inducing, morale enhancing pep talk is given. Someone leads everybody in prayer. Next moment, the moment of truth: stage is set. Curtains open. A 1 ½ hour scintillating, rip roaring, globetrotting adventure begins.

End note

Did Dracula get the crowd it truly deserved? Was it not the most intellectually and aesthetically balanced comedy in years? Doesn’t it deserve an international audience? These are questions we must ponder the next time we pick up our copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, or some other cheesy teenage super natural fiction novel, for Dracula did it better.

Nandun D. Dissanayake

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Nandun Dissanayake

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