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radical fanging in the museum

doug leonard at zen zen zo's dracula


THIS DRACULA WAS A FRESH, VISUALLY LUSH PIECE OF PROMENADE-STYLE THEATRE EXECUTED WITH CONTROLLED EXUBERANCE. ZEN ZEN ZO’S 2007 CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT SEASON WAS TITLED IN THE RAW. WHILE THIS MIGHT IMPLY THAT THE WORK WAS UNCOOKED, IT WAS, TO THE CONTRARY, REMARKABLY WELL-DEVISED TO SHOWCASE THE STRENGTHS OF THIS ENSEMBLE TEACHING COMPANY.

The creepy atmosphere of Brisbane’s Old Museum on a cold and windy night provided a perfect setting. Director-designer Steven Mitchell Wright and costume designer Angie White theatricalised the bricks and mortar of this Victorian edifice in a way that immediately suggested a new look at an old classic. The audience was introduced to the space by coyly animated, white-faced young women dressed in punked-up 19th Century boudoir finery. The slightly salacious intimation was that we had been invited to the private gallery of a museum within a museum as we wandered between discrete installations. Dracula and his cohorts on the raked stage that represented his castle were implacable, feeding predators; a tormented Renfrey was exhibited in his cage next to a card cabinet labelled in the arcane terminology of redundant sciences; Mina posed on a swing; an old-fashioned typewriter reminded us that these were figures from a text. The instilled power in these living waxworks—Dracula’s realm of the undead—was appropriately uncanny, glacial.

There was much to admire, though the ensuing production was extremely wordy for physical theatre, resulting in an irritating clunkiness despite the brilliance of some of the set pieces such as Lucy’s funeral when the mourners’ umbrellas were chillingly utilised to seal her grave. However, there was dramaturgical neatness in the reduction of Lucy’s original triumvirate of suitors to the teasing desire enacted between Dr Seward and Lucy, so that the dual partnerships of Lucy/Seward and Mina/Harkness enacted mirror male reflections of the whore/bride dichotomy. Similarly, the homoerotic overtones in the magnificently eruptive fight between Dracula and Harkness added a transgressive dimension (in the original, Dracula cannot repress his bloodlust when Harkness cuts himself shaving.)

Mina (played in attractively forthright, no nonsense fashion by Aideen McCartney rather than as dazed victim), Kevin Spink as Harkness, Peta Ward as Lucy, Rob Thwaites as Seward, and Mark Hill as a very sympathetic Renfield demonstrated a total focus and physical economy of means that conveyed a raw purity of intent. These aspects were distilled in Simon Tate’s iconic Van Helsing.

But it was Kevin Kiernan-Molloy’s Dracula that gave depth and contemporary relevance to the production. His potent physical presence as an outlandish corsair of Eastern European origins embodied desire that was nevertheless metamorphic, formless and nameless. He represented the Other—Gypsy, Jew, Aboriginal, Muslim—projected by the otherness within ourselves. But in this production it is Mina who kills him, not the men. By acting outside her assigned role in the text in order to slay the primal father in their stead, she subverts the symbolic order and, in a heartfelt gesture towards the impossible task of reconstituting the imaginary in words, the production concludes with an ensemble choral paean filling the space with liberating sound.


Zen Zen Zo, Dracula, director, designer Steven Mitchell Wright, assistant director, writer Stephen Atkins, assistant director Tora Hylands, costume design and lighting Ben Hughes with Genevieve Trace, sound design Kayne Hunnam, choral direction Zohara Rotem, composition/strings Lyndon Chester, assistant choreographer Carly Rees, guest vocals Emma Dean; Old Museum Building, Brisbane, Jun 27–Jul 14

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. web

© Doug Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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