Mark Gatiss makes his triumphant, and long overdue, return to the Big Finish family to take on the title role in Jonathan Barnes’ spectacular rendition of ‘Dracula’. At a time where film and TV are crammed with vampires, but almost no book-accurate depictions of Bram Stoker’s classic story, this straight adaptation proves the true immortality of the eponymous Count.
Barnes is no stranger to adapting classic horror stories for Big Finish, having given us his acclaimed ‘Frankenstein’ last year, so it’s no surprise that he confidently toys with the format to keep the listener’s attention. Whereas the original book’s chapters are mostly comprised of diary entries, letters and newspaper cuttings, Barnes cunningly introduces Dr Seward’s phonograph diary earlier than it first appeared in Stoker’s tale to inject variety into the soundscape at just the right moment.
The cast all turn in a wonderful performance but it’s Gatiss who really steals the show, though with a performance as far from Mycroft Holmes as you can get. If you didn’t know ahead of time, you could be forgiven for not recognising Gatiss’ voice. The story is front-heavy in that the bulk of Dracula’s scenes taken place near the start, yet Gatiss’ performance is dripping with such cool, malevolent charisma that his presence resonates across the remaining two parts in spite of his scarcity.
Deirdre Mullins should also be applauded for taking on Mina’s expanded role with absolute aplomb. The interplay between her as the would-be narrator, linking together the various sources of the story (which was done by Jonathan in the original), and her role towards the end of the story’s action does Mullins great credit as an actor.
Structurally, the story follows the beats of Stoker’s original story pretty closely, but this does mean that the parts feel less like three individual acts and more like a continuous play that were cut arbitrarily sometime after the hour mark. As refreshing as book, accuracy is some rearrangement of the story to give each part a satisfying closing flourish may have helped the pacing. Parts one and two end without any particular ceremony and (if you’re listening to the download) you’d be hard-pressed to notice that one part has ended and the next begun until the intro music pipes up after a brief cold opening.
On the subject of music, director Scott Handcock and the team at Big Finish have done an excellent job as usual with the score of ‘Dracula’. Given how important the incidental music is in horror and the fact that its tone is very different from Big Finish’s usual output, it would have been very easy for them to loop in some generic tension music and have done with it. Instead, the music embraces Big Finish’s sci-fi work to give us a truly weird and unnerving score, selling this as a truly unique adaptation of the story.
‘Dracula’ is available from the Big Finish website, priced at £20 for the four-disc CD edition and £15 for the download. Bundled with the play is half an hour of cast interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff along with the music suite so you can hear the clean orchestrals for yourself. There’s also five minutes of outtakes that are a welcome treat to add a bit of levity to the dark and brooding four hours you just sat through. I definitely need Count Dracula purring the words “Tesco Metro” as a ringtone.
Blogtor Rating – 9/10
When a young solicitor, Jonathan Harker, visits the heart of Transylvania – ostensibly to meet reclusive nobleman Count Dracula – he cannot begin to imagine what horrors might lie in store for him there… or the chain of events he will set in motion at Castle Dracula.
Soon, Dracula’s bloodlust spreads to England’s shores, and Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray, becomes embroiled in his affairs. Her best friend, Lucy Westenra, falls victim to the vampire’s thirst, and it is only with the help of an unlikely bunch of allies that the Count might be defeated… but can the undead ever truly perish?
Producer/Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Bram Stoker, Dramatised by Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula), Joseph Kloska (Jonathan Harker), Deirdre Mullins(Mina Murray), Nigel Betts (Abraham Van Helsing), Rupert Young (John Seward),Alex Jordan (Arthur Holmwood), David Menkin (Quincey P. Morris), Rosanna Miles(Lucy Westenra), Elizabeth Morton (Mary Westenra), Ian Hallard (Renfield), Edward Petherbridge (Mr Swales), Katy Manning (Sister Agatha).
Other parts played by members of the cast.