There Are Such Things! Bram Stoker Interviews Michael Theodorou About His New Stage Play.

Michael Chesden

Michael Theodorou

Director, actor, writer, translator and drama teacher, Michael Theodorou has something of a fascination with Bram Stoker and Dracula, having now written three plays inspired by the author and his work. His original adaptation of Dracula was described as “genuinely disturbing” by Oxford University Press. He followed this up with Lugosi, a dark exploration of the demons which plagued the aging actor during his 1951 British revival tour of Dracula. Michael has now rounded off the series with There Are Such Things, a play about Bram Stoker himself, which is intended as the first half of a double bill to include Lugosi. Set in 1906, the play finds Stoker suffering from temporary blindness as the result of a stroke.  As his wife Florence tries to nurse him back to health, Stoker experiences a series of strange visitations. Is the invalid author suffering from hallucination, delusions or is it all real? Proving that there are indeed such things, no less a personage than Mr. Stoker himself decided to quiz Michael about his new play.

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Bram: What is the name of heaven possessed you to write a play about me, Michael?

Michael: It was actually my wife who first suggested the idea to me, Bram, as I’d already written a stage adaptation of your ‘Dracula’ and also a play about Bela Lugosi. She thought it would round off the series of plays inspired by your work.

Bram: Well, that’s very flattering of you to say so, Michael, but was she aware that I might be rather a dull subject?

Michael: Nothing of the kind, Bram, as soon as I started to write the play, ideas flowed very quickly and I developed a concept for your portrayal almost immediately.

Bram: A concept you say? What does that mean exactly?

Michael: It means that the actor who plays you has a double role.

Bram: In what way?

Michael: Before I explain, Bram, I’d like to tell you how the play starts –

Henry Irving

Sir Henry Irving, Stoker’s friend and employer for 27 years. The shock of his death is said to have brought on Stoker’s first stroke.

You are sitting in the upstairs room of your house in Chelsea, the date is 1906. Sir Henry Irving is dead and you’ve already had a stroke which leaves you partially blind. There is violin music playing, the lights come up to reveal you writing at your desk. You half close your eyes and the lights dim to indicate that your sight is going. The music continues and swells. You look towards the audience and feel a presence entering from behind you – it is a very beautiful, seductive vampiress who approaches you with graceful movements and strokes your hair and your brow. You say, ‘ I was afraid to raise my eyelids……..

Bram: ……………….but saw perfectly under the lashes’. You’re quoting from my ‘Dracula’!

Michael: I am. The lady wants to seduce you and this lady is your wife!

Bram: My wife!

Michael: Oh, yes, she’s the other character in the play.

Bram: What happens next?

Michael: The scene ends, there’s a blackout and we hear a knocking at the door. The ‘vampiress’ has become your wife Florence Stoker. She enters – quick costume change of course – and you have a conversation. She is concerned about your eyes and staying up late writing.

Florence Stoker 1

Florence Stoker, a society beauty whose suitors included Oscar Wilde

Bram: Now that’s exactly what my wife used to do! That’s awfully clever of you, Michael, how did you know all this?

Michael: Pure imagination, Bram, and it seemed a good way to start the play.

Bram: How do you represent my wife in the play? Is it a good part?

Michael: It’s a wonderful part for an actress not only does she play herself and a vampires but also your mother!

Bram: My mother! My mother’s in the play too!?

Michael: Oh, yes, you wouldn’t wish me to forget your mother, would you?

Bram: Of course not, she was probably the biggest single influence on my life and my writing. If truth be told probably a greater influence than my wife.

Michael: Well, there you are then I’ve got them all in the same play for you!

Stoker's Mother

Bram Stoker’s Mother, Charlotte Matilda Blake Thornley Stoker

Courtesy of www.bramstokerestate.com

Bram: What were you saying earlier, Michael , about a double role for my character?

Michael: Ah,yes. Your character, Bram, is himself………. plus another character.

Bram: What do you mean?

Michael: I mean that you play Van Helsing as well!

Bram: Van Helsing? Van Helsing you say? How is that possible?

Michael: Ah, stagecraft, Bram, and a bit of a challenge for the actor!

Bram: Will that not seem rather odd to an audience?

Michael: Perhaps at first but after a while they’ll get used to you being a double character and they’ll accept it. I was trying to convey, Bram, that you are a two-sided person – as all the more interesting people in the world are! You have an inner as well as an outer life and Van Helsing is your inner self…

Bram: Fascinating….

Michael: Just as the vampiress is part of your self as well.

Bram: Well, all this sounds very intriguing indeed, Michael, I’ll have to have a look at this play of yours. What’s it called by the way?

Michael: It’s called ‘There Are Such Things’.

Bram: Ah, another quote from ‘Dracula’!

Michael: Yes, when Van Helsing says ‘ there are such things as vampires!’ This was also a phrase picked up by the great Hungarian actor, Bela Lugosi who played Dracula both on stage and on film and I’ve written a play about him too!

Bram: Goodness, you have been busy, Michael!

Edith Sherman

Bela Lugosi as he appeared in the 1951 British revival tour of Dracula (Photo by Edith Sherman)

Michael: Lugosi used that phrase in his curtain speeches when he would say to the audience – (In the voice of BELA LUGOSI) ‘ So when you lie in bed tonight in your darkened room and these thoughts give you nightmares and you dread to look behind the curtains – just pull yourself together and remember that, after all, THERE ARE SUCH THINGS!’

Bram: This Lugosi sounds like a very sinister character indeed.

Michael: He was and one of your greatest interpreters. He would have two Red Cross nurses enter the auditorium before each performance in case somebody fainted and needed medical attention.

Bram: What a great idea – I wish I’d used it for my stage production of ‘Dracula’…except of course that my stage version did not get a performance.

Michael: I know. Sir Henry didn’t like it.

Bram: Well, we’ll draw a veil over that, Michael. It’s something I don’t like to talk about. Now tell me when your play will be performed?

(INTERVIEW TO BE CONTINUED)

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You can visit Michael’s website at:

michaeltheodorou.weebly.com

Read an extract from his adaptation of Dracula here:

www.dramaworks.co.uk/ps_dracula.html

His books on school drama are available from Amazon:

www.amazon.com/Ideas-that-Drama-Michael-Theodorou/dp/0748702253

www.amazon.com/Classroom-Gems-Games-Activities-Primary/dp/1408223295

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Related Pages

Lugosi – A Play For The Stage By Michael Theodorou

An Interview With Bram Stoker

Dracula was published in the UK by Archibald Constable and Co. on May 26th, 1897. Just over one month later, the following interview with Bram Stoker was published in the July 1st edition of The British Weekly. The interview was conducted by Jane Stoddard under the pen name “Lorna”.

“Mr.Bram Stoker. A Chat with the Author of Dracula”

One of the most interesting and exciting of recent novels is Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” It deals with the ancient mediaeval vampire legend, and in no English work of fiction has this legend been so brilliantly treated. The scene is laid partly in Transylvania and partly in England. The first fifty-four pages, which give the journal of Jonathan Harker after leaving Vienna until he makes up his mind to escape from Castle Dracula, are in their weird power altogether unrivalled in recent fiction. The only book which to my knowledge at all compares with them is “The Waters of Hercules,” by E.D. Gerard, which also treats of a wild and little known portion of Eastern Europe. Without revealing the plot of the story, I may say that Jonathan Harker, whose diary first introduces the vampire Count, is a young solicitor sent by his employer to Castle Dracula to arrange for the purchase of a house and estate in England.

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Stoker's handwritten notes detailing the characters in DraculaBram Stoker’s handwritten notes on the characters of Dracula

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From the first day of his starting, signs and wonders follow him. At the “Golden Krone” at Bistritz the landlady warns him not to go to Castle Dracula, and, finding that his purpose is unalterable, places a rosary with a crucifix round his neck. For this gift he has good cause to be grateful afterwards. Harker’s fellow-passengers on the stage-coach grow more and more alarmed about his safety as they come nearer to the dominions of the Count. Kindly gifts are pressed upon him: wild rose, garlic, and mountain ash. These are meant to be a protection against the evil eye. The author seems to know every corner of Transylvania and all its superstitions. Presently in the Borgo Pass a carriage with four horses drives up beside the coach. “The horses were driven by a tall man with a long brown beard, and a great black hat which seemed to hide his face from us. I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight as he turned to us…. As he spoke he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered the line from Burger’s ‘Lenore’: ‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell’ (‘For the dead travel fast’).”

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Dracula First EditionDracula first edition

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This is the famous king vampire, Count Dracula, in ancient times a warlike Transylvanian noble. Jonathan Harker is conscious from the first that he is among ghostly and terrible surroundings. Even on the night journey to the Castle, wolves which have gathered round the carriage disappear when the terrible driver lifts his hand. On his arrival the guest is left waiting, and presently a tall old man, whom he suspects from the beginning to be none other than the driver himself, bids him welcome to his house. The Count never eats with his guest. During the day he is absent, but during the night he converses, the dawn breaking up the interview. There are no mirrors to be seen in any part of the ancient building, and the young solicitor’s fears are confirmed by the fact that one morning, when the Count comes unexpectedly to his bedroom and stands looking over his shoulder, there is no reflection of him in the small shaving glass Harker has brought from London, and which covers the whole room behind. The adventures of Jonathan Harker will be read again and again; the most powerful part of the book after this is the description of the voyage of the Demeter from Varna to Whitby. A supernatural terror haunts the crew from the moment that they leave the Dardanelles, and as time goes on one man after another disappears. It is whispered that at night a man, tall, thin, and ghastly pale, is seen moving about the ship. The mate, a Roumanian, who probably knows the vampire legend, searches during the day in a number of old boxes, and in one he finds Count Dracula asleep. His own suicide and the death of the captain follow, and when the ship arrives at Whitby, the vampire escapes in the form of a huge dog. The strange thing is that, although in some respects this is a gruesome book, it leaves on the mind an entirely wholesome impression. The events which happen are so far removed from ordinary experience that they do not haunt the imagination unpleasantly. It is certain that no other writer of our day could have produced so marvellous a book.

On Monday morning I had the pleasure of a short conversation with Mr. Bram Stoker, who, as most people know, is Sir Henry Irving’s manager at the Lyceum Theatre. He told me, in reply to a question, that the plot of the story had been a long time in his mind, and that he spent about three years in writing it. He had always been interested in the vampire legend. “It is undoubtedly,” he remarked, “a very fascinating theme, since it touches both on mystery and fact. In the Middle Ages the terror of the vampire depopulated whole villages.”

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Sir Henry Irving (top hat) and Bram Stoker take a cab from the private Burleigh Street entrance of the Lyceum Theatre, which was reserved for the use of the “Unholy Trinity” of Irving, Stoker and H.J. Loveday, the Lyceum’s stage manager.

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Is there any historical basis for the legend?

“It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself. Even in the single villages it was believed that there might be many such creatures. When once the panic seized the population, their only thought was to escape.”

In what parts of Europe has this belief been most prevalent?

“In certain parts of Styria it has survived longest and with most intensity, but the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Chersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities.”

In order to understand the legend, I suppose it would be necessary to consult many authorities?

Mr. Stoker told me that the knowledge of vampire superstitions shown in “Dracula” was gathered from a great deal of miscellaneous reading.

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The Land Beyond the ForestEmily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest, published in 1888, is still in print

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“No one book that I know of will give you all the facts. I learned a good deal from E. Gerard’s ‘Essays on Roumanian Superstitions,’ which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes. I also learned something from Mr. Baring-Gould’s ‘Were-Wolves.’ Mr. Gould has promised a book on vampires, but I do not know whether he has made any progress with it.”

Readers of “Dracula” will remember that the most famous character in it is Dr. Van Helsing, the Dutch physician, who, by extraordinary skill, self-devotion, and labour, finally outwits and destroys the vampire. Mr. Stoker told me that van Helsing is founded on a real character. In a recent leader on “Dracula,” published in a provincial newspaper, it is suggested that high moral lessons might be gathered from the book. I asked Mr. Stoker whether he had written with a purpose, but on this point he would give no definite answer, “I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson,” he remarked; “but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves.”

In reply to further questions, Mr. Stoker said that he was born in Dublin, and that his work had laid for thirteen years in the Civil Service. He is an M.A. of Trinity College, Dublin. His brother-in-law is Mr. Frankfort Moore, one of the most popular young writers of the day. He began his literary work early. The first thing he published was a book on “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions.” Next came a series of children’s stories, “Under the Sunset,” published by Sampson Low. Then followed the book by which he has hitherto been best known, “The Snake’s Pass.” Messrs. Constable have published in their “Acme” library a fascinating little volume called “The Watter’s Mou,” and this with “The Shoulder of Shasta,” completes Mr. Stoker’s list of novels. He has been in London for some nineteen years, and believes that London is the best possible place for a literary man. “A writer will find a chance here if he is good for anything; and
recognition is only a matter of time.” Mr. Stoker speaks of the generosity shown by literary men to one another in a tone which shows that he, at least, is not disposed to quarrel with the critics.

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The Book of WerewolvesSabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves, published in 1865, is also still in print

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Mr. Stoker does not find it necessary to publish through a literary agent. It always seems to him, he says, that an author with an ordinary business capacity can do better for himself than through any agent. “Some men now-a-days are making ten thousand a year by their novels, and it seems hardly fair that they should pay ten or five percent of this great sum to a middleman. By a dozen letters or so in the course of the year they could settle all their literary business on their own account.” Though Mr. Stoker did not say so, I am inclined to think that the literary agent is to him a nineteenth century vampire.

No interview during this week would be complete without a reference to the Jubilee, so I asked Mr. Stoker, as a Londoner of nearly twenty years standing, what he thought of the celebrations. “Everyone,” he said, “has been proud that the great day went off so successfully. We have had a magnificent survey of the Empire, and last week’s procession brought home, as nothing else could have done, the sense of the immense variety of the Queen’s dominions.”

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Staged Reading Of Dracula At the Lyceum Theatre In 1897

Contemporary Reviews Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

 The Library

A collection of  editions of Dracula