To reckon with the mince pies and Christmas paraphernalia that’s already elbowing its way onto supermarket shelves, The National Theatre declares spooky season (unseasonably) early. Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is an intersectional feminist (and distinctly Scottish) interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic.
The original text and the many adaptations that have come after it often – as horror does – highlight the dominant anxieties of the era, or of the storyteller. Now, in film and literary criticism, the early Dracula and its following renditions are read to represent the spread of disease, or as a metaphor for xenophobia: people coming across the sea to suck the lifeblood, and resources, from the country. Sound familiar?
However, Morna Pearson (writer) and Sally Cookson’s (director) adaptation is a far cry from a supernatural manifestation of conservative anxieties, drawing instead on the othering of women and gender-queer people and foregrounding their perspective. This is reflected in the cast, made up exclusively of the people they hope to empower, and the actors swap roles seamlessly (Natalie Arle-Toyne is at once delightfully South-African accented Van Helsing and downtrodden patient at Aberdeen’s Asylum for Women, being just one example).
Mina’s Reckoning positions Mina (played by Danielle Jam) at the centre of the story, elevated from her previous status as swooning cannon fodder for Dracula, along with her friend Lucy (Ailsa Davidson) who likewise is endowed with agency. Narratively, it takes a similar stance to Robert Eggers’ The Witch, where Thomasin is invited by Satan to ‘live deliciously’ as a witch, foregrounding female desire. However, what’s an interesting departure from this is that Mina, instead of following under the rule of a higher, masculine power, creates a (coven?) of vampires of her own, creating a true, utopic vision of intersectional feminist emancipation and life outside the patriarchy.
For a horror, at times there felt that there was an over-explanation of events, and as viewers, we’re left wanting to leave space for fear, anticipation, and imagination. Liz Kettle’s Dracula was a combination of the charming sensuality of Bela Lugosi’s depiction in the 1931 film adaptation, and the arrogant tongue-flicking of Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter. However, the costuming did speak more to the (now) absurd and Halloween-costume-camp of Nosferatu, which often distracted from Kettle’s performance (though the nails did, literally, slay).
What Mina’s Reckoning did well was centre sexist othering, spotlighting how easily we are made monstrous. I cherished how, instead of swapping their ‘humanity’ for the taste of butter, a pretty dress, and frolicking naked in the woods under the supervision of Satan, the monsters of Mina’s Reckoning are free to have that, and so much more.