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There will be blood

The immense success of <em>Twilight</em>, both the book and film, proves the vampire genre is still

The New Annotated Dracula

Bram Stoker, edited by Leslie S Klinger introduction by Neil Gaiman

W W Norton, 672pp, £28

Bram Stoker may not have been the most subtle of 19th-century novelists, nor a very profound thinker, but in the field of branding he must surely rank as one of the true greats. Imagine a world in which he had stuck to his original intentions, and called his novel The Undead and named its arch-villain "Count Wampyr". It's a chilling thought. Fortunately, Stoker's meticulous researches into European folklore and history turned up the obscure Wallachian family name "Dracul" - "Dragon" (or "Devil") - and its related form "Dracula", a name adopted by the aristocratic warrior usually known as Vlad the Impaler (circa 1431-1476). The suffix "a" means, simply, "son of", but nowadays, more than a century after the publication of Stoker's book in 1897, any word ending in "ula" sends a quite different, and unambiguous signal: vampires ahoy!

This should not be too surprising, since there have to date been more than 150 feature films in which Count Dracula is the leading character, and countless, otherwise Count-less, movies, television dramas and novels in which he puts in an appearance, from the plodding Van Helsing and Blade: Trinity to the occasionally sublime Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By the end of the 20th century, the more unpredictable outgrowths of Stoker's creation included the blaxploitation hit Blacula and its less successful sequel Scream Blacula Scream, the children's heroes Quackula and Count Duckula (not to mention the cute vampire rabbit Bunnicula, who sinks his fangs into innocent tomatoes), the breakfast cereal Count Chocula, and even a perfectly serious American movie of the mid-Seventies, written by a hearing-impaired actor and conducted entirely in sign language, Deafula.

When a franchise becomes parodied, pastiched and generally diluted to this degree, it is usually a sign that the original creation has lost all its potency, but not a bit of it: at least two (maybe more) expensive Dracula features are now in pre-production. Unless you spend much of your time in a sealed coffin, you may also have noticed that we are in the age of Twilight and its three sequels; these novels by Stephanie Meyer have sold umpteen squillion copies and the film is already by far the most financially successful vampire flick of all time. On the face of it, Twilight, with its high-school setting, its "vegetarian" vampires and its strict absence of major fang action between the Dracula character and the Lucy/Mina heroine, bears not the faintest resemblance to the original Dracula. Examine the case a little more carefully, though, and one or two telling family traits have clearly survived the transition from adult flesh-crawler to teenage bodice-ripper. Let us go back to the original, with the help of some fresh scholarship.

Leslie S Klinger's The New Annotated Dracula is not the first scholarly edition of Stoker's text - its antecedents include Leonard Wolf's The Annotated Dracula (1975) and Raymond T McNally and Redu Florescu's The Essential Dracula (1979) - but, at more than 600 pages of text, notes and illustrations, it is the most handsomely produced by a long chalk and, to put it mildly, the most thorough. Even at £28, this large-format hardback is a bargain. Klinger's research has been remarkable - exhaustive almost to the point of ­lunacy. Most annotated editions are content to clarify baffling passages, note textual variants, translate obscure foreign phrases and carry out other humble but useful tasks. Klinger does all these chores, and then much else besides. Here's an example: some of Dracula's action is set in Purfleet. Klinger's note refers us to the 1894 Baedeker's Great Britain, explains that the place is about eighteen and a half miles from London Bridge, had a population in Stoker's day of about 150, and "received three daily mail deliveries from London, at 7.00 and 8.30am and 7.00pm; outgoing mail deliveries were at 12.35 and 9.50pm". If that sounds like a trifle too much detail, wait till Klinger gets cracking on railway timetables, tides, calendars . . .

At a rough estimate, a good three-quarters of these notes add almost nothing to appreciation or understanding of the novel, though they do have the undeniable fascination of all such compilations of small, hard facts. Want to know the complete history of the early typewriter? It's here. Of the Kodak camera? Ditto. The lifespans of elephants and toads? Present and correct. What "Durham" is? Well, to be fair, some American readers will perhaps find it helpful to be told about that northern city, or Hyde Park, or the history of Exeter Cathedral (". . . in the Geometrical Decorated style, the cathedral was built between 1280 and 1370 . . ."). For British readers, Klinger's provision of detailed information about "a river port and chief town of the newly created county of Tyne and Wear" truly is a case of bringing coals to Newcastle.

Though Klinger is almost unfailingly reliable when it comes to factual detail, he has unfortunately chosen to embed his chunks of information in what he calls a "gentle fiction" - the conceit that Stoker's novel was a prose docu­- mentary, derived from real-life accounts written by people he actually knew, and edited by Dracula himself, who wanted to spread the false ­rumour that he had been destroyed. This conceit gives Klinger a useful way of highlighting the novel's fairly well-known inconsistencies of time and place, narrative gaps and ambiguities. However, it was probably a lot more fun for the editor than it will be for most readers.

For most Dracula buffs, then, the real meat of the book only comes once the main text has ended, in a series of excellent appendices that, briskly and reliably, outline the history of vampire fictions before and after Stoker's text. As Christopher Frayling has pointed out, there were four main types of vampire in 19th-century prose, poetry and drama: the Unseen Force, the femme fatale or Vamp, the folkloric monster, and the doomed, aristocratic hero-villain. Stoker's coup was to draw in some measure on all four of these, but particularly on the last. Here, his great inspiration was Lord Byron - or, more exactly, Byron's doctor John Polidori, who wrote the first literary vampire fiction in English ("The Vampyre", a short story) in 1819, often wrongly attributed to Byron himself, and believed by the credulous to be autobiographical.

Before Polidori, the vampire had been a smelly, rotting, nasty thing that attacked your sheep at night; after Polidori - whose blood-sucking character was called Lord Ruthven - he was a toff: aloof, haughty, troubled, often handsome and usually devastatingly attractive to women. The cinema versions of Stoker's book have drawn thirstily on both traditions. In F?W?Murnau's great film Nosferatu (1922) - pirated from Stoker - the vampire is a nobleman, Graf Orlock, but he looks and acts like a vile rodent: the folkloric vampire. In Tod Browning's patchy but hugely influential 1931 Dracula, Bela Lugosi's Dracula always sports evening dress and is, at first, welcome in all the best houses. Lugosi usurped the place of Valentino as a sex-god, and the idea that the vampire is supremely seductive became a staple of popular mythology.

Cut to the present day, and the same class distinctions among the Undead still apply. In 30 Days of Night and I Am Legend, the vampires are horrible, ugly creatures, often mindless: descendants of the folkloric vampire. And while the hero of Twilight may wear torso-hugging T-shirts instead of a cape and white tie, just look at his other defining qualities: aloof, haughty, troubled, aristocratic (well, he has old blood), cultivated . . . and devastatingly attractive to women. A true son of the Count, in fact, and a recognisable chip off Lord Byron's block.

Vampire crazes have come and gone over the past 200 years: in the 1820s, for example, every fashionable theatre in Paris was staging a vampire show, and every bookseller flogging novels about Lord Ruthven. Quite why we are now witnessing another nosferatic craze is a tricky question, but, with Tim Burton currently planning to remake the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas Collins, romantic vamp, it's a safe bet that it will persist for at least a few years yet. And Dracula himself? He is surely good for at least another century or so. As any Hammer film fan will tell you, the Undead simply won't stay in their tombs, no matter how firmly staked.

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Interview: Alistair Darling

Almeida Theatre
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Rupert Goold: “A director always has to be more of a listener”

The artistic director of the Almeida Theatre on working with Patrick Stewart, the inaccessibility of the arts, and directing his wife in Medea.

Eight years ago Rupert Goold’s Macbeth made his name. The critics were unanimous in their praise, with one calling it the “Macbeth of a lifetime”. Goold’s first Olivier Award soon followed (Enron won him a second in 2009, King Charles III nearly won him a third last year). It was a family triumph; Lady Macbeth was played by Goold’s wife, Kate Fleetwood.

Now the pair has finally reunited and Fleetwood is his undisputed lead. She is playing Medea in the Almeida’s latest and final play of its Greek season. Directing your wife is one thing. Directing her in a play about a woman who murders her children because her husband abandons her is another. And it’s been harder than Goold expected.

“You live with someone every day, and they don’t age because the change is so incremental, and then you do something together and you realise how much you’ve changed. It’s like playing tennis with someone after eight years: you’re completely different players.”

As it is, Goold thinks the director-actor relationship is inevitably fraught. “There is an essential slave-master, sadomasochistic, relationship,” he says. “The incredibly complicated thing about being an actor is you’re constantly being told what to do. And one of the most damaging things about being a director – and why most of them are complete arseholes – is because they get off at telling people what to do.”

Goold doesn’t. He’s as amicable in person as the pictures – bountiful hair, loose jacket, wide grin – suggest. And when we meet in the Almedia’s crowded rehearsal rooms, tucked away on Upper Street, 100 yards from the theatre, he’s surprisingly serene given his play is about to open.

He once said that directing a play is like running towards a wall and hoping it becomes a door just before the curtain goes up. Has the door appeared? “It’s always a funny moment [at the end of rehearsal]. Sometimes you do a show and it’s a bit dead and the costumes and set transform it. Then sometimes it’s perfect and the design kills it.”

We meet shortly before last Thursday’s press night, and he can’t tell how good it is. But it “certainly feels quite private. The idea that loads of people are going to come and watch it now feels a bit weird. You bring a lot of your sense of relationships and parenting into it.”

Goold has always argued that the classics wither without intervention. So in this revival of Euripides’ 2,446-year-old play, Medea is a writer and her husband, Jason (of Argonauts fame), is an actor. “But it’s not really about that… it’s more about divorce, about what it means to separate.”

“It’s about the impact of a long-term relationship when it collapses. I don’t know whether there is a rich tradition of drama like that, and yet for most people, those kind of separations are far more profound and complicated and have greater ramifications than first love; and we have millions of plays about first love!”

Every generation discovers their own time in the Greek plays. Goold thinks he and playwright Rachel Cusk were shaped by the aftermath of the 1970s in interpreting Medea; “That’s the period when the idea of the family began to get tainted.” And when critics praised Oresteia, the Almeida’s first Greek play and a surprise West End transfer, they compared it to the Sopranos.

Yet there is something eternal about these plays. Goold says it’s the way they “stare at these problems that are totally perennial, like death,” and then offer answers that aren’t easy. Medea kills the kids and a mother rips her son to shreds in the Bakkhai (the Almeida’s predecessor to Medea). Where’s the moral compass in that?

Except there is a twist in Goold’s Medea, and it’s not one every critic has taken kindly to. It was enough to stop the Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, otherwise lavish in his praise, from calling it “a Medea for our times”. Nevertheless, the reviews have been kind, as they often are for Goold; although The Times’ Ann Treneman was vitriolic in her dislike (“Everyone is ghastly. The men are beyond irritating. The women even worse.”).

In theory, Goold welcomes the criticism. “I’d rather our audience hated something and talked about it than was passively pleased,” he tells me ahead of reviews.

Controversial and bracing theatre is what Goold wants to keep directing and producing; as the Almeida’s artistic director he is in charge of more than just his own shows. But how does he do it? I put a question to him: if I had to direct Medea instead of him, what advice would he have given me?

He pauses. “You’ve got to love words,” he begins. “There’s no point doing it unless you have a real delight in language. And you have to have vision. But probably the most important thing is, you’ve got to know how to manage a room.”

“It’s people management. So often I have assistants, or directors I produce, and I think ‘God, they’re just not listening to what that person is trying to say, what they’re trying to give.’ They’re either shutting them down or forcing them into a box.”

“Most people in a creative process have to focus on what they want to say, but a director always has to be more of a listener. People do it different ways. Some people spin one plate incredibly fast and vibrantly in the middle of the room, and hope all the others get sucked in. It’s about thriving off of one person – the director, the lead performer, whomever.”

“I’m more about the lowest common denominator: the person you’re most aware of is the least engaged. You have to keep lifting them up, then you get more creativity coming in.”

It’s not always simple. When actors and directors disagree, the director can only demand so much, especially if the actor is far more famous than them. When Goold directed Macbeth, Patrick Stewart was his lead. Stewart was a movie star and twice his age.

“Patrick’s take on Macbeth… I didn’t think it should be played that way. I’d played him as a student and I had an idea of what he was.”

“But then you think, ‘Ok, you’re never going to be what I want you to be, but actually let me get rid of that, and just focus on what’s good about what you want to be, and get rid of some of the crap.’”

Goold doesn’t think he’s ever really struggled to win an actor’s respect (“touch wood”). The key thing, he says, is that “they just feel you’re trying to make legible their intention”.

And then you must work around your lead. In Macbeth, Stewart was “a big deep river of energy… when normally you get two people frenetically going ‘Uhgh! Is this a dagger I see before me! Uhgh!’ and there’s lots of hysteria.”

“So we threw all sorts of other shit at the production to compensate, to provide all the adrenalin which Patrick was taking away to provide clarity and humanity.”

Many people want to be theatre directors, and yet so few are successful. The writers, actors and playwrights who sell shows can be counted on a few hands. Depressingly, Goold thinks it’s becoming harder to break in. It’s difficult to be discovered. “God, I don’t know, what I worry – wonder – most is: ‘Are there just loads of great directors who don’t make it?’”

 The assisting route is just not a good way to find great new directors. “The kind of people who make good assistants don’t make good directors, it’s almost diametrically opposite.” As for regional directors, newspaper budgets have collapsed, so they can no longer rely on a visit from a handful of national critics, as Goold did when he was based in Salisbury and Northampton. And audiences for touring shows have, by some measures, halved in the past twenty years.

Theatre has also evolved. When Goold was coming through, “There were not a lot of directors who felt they were outside the library, so for me to whack on some techno was radical! Now it’d be more commonplace.” New directors have to find new ways to capture our attention – or at least the critics’.

But the critics have changed too. A nod from a critic can still be vital in the right circles, but the days when critics “made” directors is long over. “I remember Nick de Jongh saying, ‘Oh Rupert Goold, I made him.’ Because he’d put Macbeth on the front page of the Standard. I owed my career to him, and in some ways I did! But it's an absurd idea, that would not happen now.”

“It’s all changed so much in literally the past three years. There was a time, for better or worse, when you had a big group of establishment critics: de Jongh, Michael Billington, Michael Coveney, Charlie Spencer – they were mostly men – Susannah Clapp. And if they all liked your show, you were a hit.” (“They could be horrible,” he adds.)

“Now I get more of a sense of a show by being on Twitter than reading the reviews.” It’s “probably a good thing”, Goold thinks, and it certainly beats New York, where a single review – the New York Times' – makes or breaks plays. But it’s another problem for aspiring directors, who can no longer be so easily plucked from the crowd.

It’s no longer a problem Goold needs to overcome. His star could wane, but he seems likely to be among the leading voices in British theatre for a while yet.

Harry Lambert is a staff writer and editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.