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How a former Riverdance star is turning Dracula into a mysterious stranger

A new play premiering next week ignores the usual Dracula tropes, making the story even more eerie. / YouTube

THE IMAGE most people have of Dracula is one that has been played out in popular culture again and again: The fangs, the pale skin, the cape, the evil laugh, and the demands for blood. It’s all a bit naff.

The Dracula portrayed in Bram Stoker’s 1897 thriller is far from this – a darker, more mysterious individual, and the terror he instills isn’t as overt at times- but in many adaptations this has been lost.

A new play premiering this week in Dublin drills the story back to this, presenting Dracula in a light audiences might not expect.

Whitby, part of the Bram Stoker Festival, is a production focusing on a single section of the book in which Dracula travels from Transylvania to London on the ship Demeter, and uses the captain’s logs to drive the story along.

However, Count Dracula isn’t Count Dracula. He is a stranger on the ship, his true identity unknown to the other passengers.

He is played by former Riverdance male lead Colin Dunne, who took over from Michael Flately after his sudden departure from the show in 1995.

“I have to admit, me playing Dracula is not my normal bag,” Dunne told

I’m a dancer, and come from traditional dance, so I’ve been waking up a few mornings with a slight sense of panic thinking, ‘What am I doing?’

When he first began working on the play three years ago with director Joan Sheehy, Dunne discovered the more nuanced side of Dracula, as portrayed in the book. He focused on this as a fresh approach to take, one that would draw the audience into a story they think they already know all too well.

“The things that we expect from Dracula, the costume, the cloak, the make-up, the teeth, the fangs, the blood, the arch villain, the big gestures… I’ve been trying to avoid those archetypal things that we know about him.

“It’s like doing Romeo and Juilet, because we all known what happens but you need to still find another way… to hold the audience’s attention and tension.”

While Dunne is preparing a chilling version of Dracula, focusing on the “silence and stillness and the fear that that can provoke by doing less”, the location of the play itself lends itself to a horror story, in the Boys’ School in Smock Alley, the city’s oldest theatre, dating back to 1662.

One wall of the dramatic setting previously formed part of a church, with the tall arched windows still visible.

boys school 3 The Boy's School. Image courtesy of Smock Alley Theatre Image courtesy of Smock Alley Theatre

The play’s three characters - Martha Dunlea as Lucy Westenra, one of Dracula’s victims, and Patrick Ryan as captain of the Demeter – who audiences might recognise as Garda Paudge Brennan from Red Rock - use this space to tell the story. The encompassing walkways are used for scenes on the ship; the windows are used by Lucy to tell her story from Whitby.

Director Joan Sheehy explained they are using the space as an extra element to ratchet up the tension.

“The audience are going to be surrounded by the story,” she said, “We’re hoping that the audience will be gripped, and a little bit tense and scared.”

There’ll be times when the audience when a hear line from behind them, and think ‘Is that Dracula? Is that the captain?’

Sheehy is a die-hard Dracula fan, and has travelled to Romania to see locations from the novel herself, and explain how she wants to do justice to the original in this contemporary take on the 120-year-old story.

We’re not trying to tell the whole story, so we don’t have Castle Dracula, and we don’t have [asylum inmate] Renfield and [vampire hunter] Van Helsing, those kind of characters. It’s a modern take in terms of concentrating on three characters, and telling the main elements of the story through them.

The team behind Whitby hope for it to have a future after next week’s shows, aiming to take it use the international appeal of Dracula to take it further afield than Dublin.

There will be previews of Whitby on October 25 to 26 at 8.30pm. The show runs from October 27 to 30 at 6.30pm and 8.30pm as part of the Bram Stoker Festival. Tickets here. / YouTube

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