A fascinating original play exploring the career of Dracula author, Bram Stoker and his vital role at the height of late-Victorian theatre is due to open in Stratford-upon-Avon this May. The series of free performances will be held at the Shakespeare Centre thanks to support from Arts Council England (ACE).
Written by drama specialist Jefny Ashcroft and directed by Jonathan Collings, the play is set in 1897 and showcases Bram’s career as a business manager to Sir Henry Irving (played by Barrie Palmer), acclaimed actor-manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre. Irving, also known as the Guv’nor, was the doyen of the Victorian stage particularly applauded for his Shakespearian roles and performed alongside his leading lady, Ellen Terry (played by Jo Price). Unbeknown to them, Bram (played by David Reakes) is also writing a strange new book, Dracula and attempts to persuade Henry Irving, who he idolises, to play Count Dracula. But all is not what it seems, as friendship and professional pride come into conflict and sparks fly.
Drawing inspiration from the Bram Stoker collection which is cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), the play is part of the Arts Friendly Archives project funded by ACE, bringing people into contact with the original archival materials drawn on to create a series of fact-based dramas.
The Bram Stoker collection was sold at Sotheby’s in March 1920, after Stoker’s death, to an anonymous buyer who subsequently left it to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now RSC). It comprises records of Stoker’s work with Sir Henry Irving and Ellen Terry at the Lyceum Theatre, London, from 1878-1895, and includes play texts, letters and telegrams, notes and speeches, relics of tours to America, souvenir programmes, illustrations and reviews, portraits and press cuttings. There are also some charming pieces including a letter from Oscar Wilde accepting an invitation to dine with Bram, and a cartoon of Sarah Bernhardt that Ellen Terry drew on a napkin.
Amy Hurst, Collections Archivist at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said, “This archive provides a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian theatre and the lives and careers of Bram Stoker and his peers. We worked with Jefny to select items of particular interest and relevance which offers an exciting glimpse into Gothic literature, art and philosophy that inspired and produced an internationally-famous classic.”
The hour-long performances are free and visitors can subsequently view some of the fascinating archive materials which inspire the play’s storyline. Free tickets available to reserve on a first come first served basis at www.shakespeare.org.uk. Not suitable for under 16s.