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The Gothic Imagination: Dracula

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Paula McDonnell 12:10, Monday, 8 October 2012

Editor's note: This week Radio 4 begins The Gothic Imagination series on Radio 4 with a dramatisation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. You can hear the programme on Sunday 14 October at 3pm. The novel was adapted for Radio 4 by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, an award winning writer for stage, screen and radio, here, we ask her some questions about the project. PM

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What appealed to you about adapting Dracula?

I was attracted to Dracula because the Gothic has always appealed to me, the vampire, the Undead, I have been a fan of horror since a child when I would watch the Hammer House of horror double bill late on a Friday night.

What do like about Bram Stoker's story?

I enjoy the way that Stoker tells the story from so many different viewpoints. The various strands, it's all quite filmic how we jump from the castle to Renfield in his asylum and then to Whitby. It travels fast and over continents, it's great.

How have you found the process?

The process has been interesting, I can't say how it's been ultimately until I hear it as that's the end of the process, but so far it has been a challenge and a pleasure.

What were the main challenges in adapting it for radio?

The main challenge is editing it down to such a fraction of the novel's former self. Losing so much texture and detail and hoping that the story can survive these blows.

Have you any favourite moments?

The visits from Dracula work well, the sonic nature of impaling a woman's neck. The various other sounds are wonderful, the sea, storms, creaking doors, bats, the lapping up of blood from an asylum floor. I enjoyed the rats in the chapel and the terriers coming for them at the sound of a whistle.

You're part of an entirely female group of writers working on the Gothic Season (alongside Lucy Catherine and Nancy Harris). Have you brought out a (more) female perspective to the story do you think?

Stoker's women are great characters. They're young but strong and intelligent, nothing of the whimsical victims about them. I tried to follow his lead and I wanted to explore their sexuality in the piece, the idea of the virgin.

How did you find the read through/recording?

We had no readthrough as the time was better used to dive straight in. The recording was great. Jessica Dromgoole is always fantastic to work with and the actors and the creative team were incredibly impressive.

What do you think are the key features of a Gothic Drama?

For me a great gothic tale is about suspense and psychology and characters and places that enhance the frisson of danger and darkness. There's always a very strong undercurrent of desire. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

How have you found writing an original gothic story at the same time as working on Dracula? Has it made it easier?

Working on Dracula in parallel to a modern Gothic drama was interesting. But it's hard to say how it will feed into the writing of the shorter play. They're quite different creatures. But Stoker's novel is so great about time and place and so bold. It's been great to immerse myself in that.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz is an award winning writer who, in 2008, was the first living female playwright to have her work (Her Naked Skin) produced on the Olivier Stage at the National. She has written, and adapted, widely for theatre, with plays recently at the Old Vic, the Tricycle and the Tramway Theatre Glasgow. Her radio work includes The Man in the Suit, shortlisted for a Prix Europa 2010, and Sarah and Ken, shortlisted for the BBC Audio & Music Award for Best Original Drama, and Highly Commended by the Tinniswood Award. She has written for Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and wrote The Typist for Sky Arts Live last year. She is currently writing an original screenplay for Pawel Pawlikowski, a new version of The Furies for Radio 3's Oresteia, and adapting Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler for Radio 4.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Regarding Book at Bedtime, I have been trying to listen to this program, but it would not log-in.... why?

  • Comment number 2.

    Very disappointed with the first episode. The production is, atmospherically not a patch on the Bernard Holley, Frederick Jaeger, Phyllis Logan version. The adaptation makes the mistake of trying to put us in Lucy's head rather than allowing the truth of what is happening to emerge from the narrative. The same sledgehammer lack of subtlety has also been applied to Renfield and the (relative) expansion of the parts of Renfield and Lucy Westenra seems to have been done at the cost of deleting Quincey Morris altogether. I suspect this production will not appeal to lovers of the novel, though people who only know various film versions might find it satisfactory. I don't think I'll bother with the 2nd part.

  • Comment number 3.

    Why so unsubtle? It is a terrifying story, and should be difficult to ruin, but BBC has done just this. The singing is irritating and every time Dracula visits Lucy, we get combined orgasmic moans and the sound of someone turning on two taps. I won't be listening again either.

  • Comment number 4.

    I am not disappointed by this new version - it's very atmospheric and the main voices are distinct enough. I know it's a tad camp but what do you expect post Rock Horror Show. I don't mind being put into Lucy's head if
    it keep the story moving along. I'll be listening to part two, come Sunday or is that Sundown?

  • Comment number 5.

    I don’t know what I was entitled to expect, FI, but I was hoping for something more akin to Dracula, the novel, than this. Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel has, as far as I remember, one short paragraph told from the pov of Lucy Westenra – and most of that describes her false belief that she’s getting better. There’s a good reason for this. We learn of what’s happening to Lucy at second hand – from Mina’s letters and journal, from newspaper cuttings about ‘the bloofer lady’ etc – which means the horror of the events creeps up on us in a very troubling way. The crude device of giving us direct access to Lucy’s thoughts and feelings is more likely to make me laugh than shiver. As Rose East suggests, what should be a terrifying story has just been ruined by this blunt approach. The sexual element, too, is ludicrously overt. The need for a vampire to be invited to cross a threshold before (s)he can do so has clear sexual overtones – but to have Lucy invite the count to enter HER is, for me, a sign that the writer doesn’t trust her audience to understand the imagery and feels it has to be spelled out. Incidentally, the novel doesn’t give us anything directly from Abraham van Helsing’s pov, either. I wonder if this adaptation will be giving us crude ‘thinks’ bubbles from him, too.

    What do I expect after The Rocky Horror Show? Well, all I can say is that the estimable Holley, Jaeger, Logan version (regularly repeated on Radio 4 Extra if you haven’t heard it) was made many years after the RHS came on the scene and is a genuinely spine tingling experience. I hope you enjoy the second part of the new adaptation but I can’t be bothered giving it any more of my time.

  • Comment number 6.

    The relegation of the Count to a virtual sound effect does not tally with his psychological menace in the story. But then, I know the story almost by heart and notice the omissions from the novel. Really don't like the fact that Morris is written out, and the use of Westenra as oeuvre does not tally. But all in all it's a decent effort at a very difficult task and will listen to Part Two with interest.

 

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