Monday, 18 May 2020

Dracula: Happy Publication Day?

Did you know that the play of Bram Stoker's Dracula was staged before the book was actually published?

Until 1968 it was necessary, under the terms of the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, and the Theatres Act of 1843, for all plays intended for public performance to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for approval and licensing. The script of the theatre version of Dracula, which Bram Stoker submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office in May 1897, provides a fascinating insight into the world of the late-Victorian stage as well as offering a glimpse into the origins of Count Dracula and the way in which Stoker explored the dramatic potential of his characters.

The script for the play consists of a mixture of Stoker’s own handwriting and printed extracts cut and pasted from a galley proof* of the novel. Originally titled Dracula: or The Un-Dead, the play was hastily put together by Stoker in order to protect the dramatic rights to his book. By submitting the play to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office he was effectively ensuring he retained copyright over the characters and the plot of his novel in so far as their use on the stage was concerned. The performance itself, held on the morning of 18 May 1897 at the Lyceum Theatre, London, consisted of a dramatic reading carried out by members of the Lyceum’s resident company of actors. The novel was published eight days later on 26 May.

As was usual for copyright readings, playbills advertising the performance were only put up outside the theatre half an hour prior to the time the play was due to commence. Unsurprisingly, given the deliberate lack of advertising, only two people bought tickets to sit in attendance alongside the Lyceum’s backstage staff and crew.

The play comprises of a prologue and five acts, containing over forty scenes in total, and probably took six hours to read. Of those taking the roles in the play, the most famous was Edith Craig who took the role of Mina Murray. She was the daughter of the actress Ellen Terry and an important pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement in England.

To Stoker’s disappointment, the actor Henry Irving took no part in the production. Irving was widely considered to be one of Stoker’s inspirations for the Count, due to his dark, brooding charisma and his gift for playing other-worldly figures such as Mephistopheles from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. Legend has it that when Stoker asked Irving what he thought of the play the great actor replied with a single word – ‘dreadful’.

Did you know...?
It's not too late to place a Late Pledge to Dracula - Curse of the Vampire. And if you're quick, you might even be able to get your portrait included in one of the gamebook's illustrations.

* A preliminary printing of a text on which authors, editors and publishers can add corrections and amendments.

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