When we think of Dracula, we instantly conjure up chilling images of darkness, power, unpredictability, but with an underlying sexiness … Nick Skubij plays the world’s most famous vampire in Shake & Stir Theatre Co’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic story.
Nick not only plays Dracula, but also helped adapt the story to showcase on stage. This is a scary yet magical tale, which brings the best of gothic fiction to the Glasshouse …
Hi Nick. We last spoke when Shake & Stir’s production of Animal Farm was touring. What’s been keeping you busy since then?
We just keep continuing to put together shows and tour the country. Dracula was something we did for the first time last year in Brisbane, and we had such a great time putting it together! That’s just what we do … We’ve been continuing with our schools programme, we keep working on new things. We’re always busy!
Why did Shake & Stir Theatre Company choose Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their latest production?
It kept in line with the style of productions we’ve done before, like Animal Farm and 1984, which are inherently dark; Dracula just takes that to a new level.
In adapting the book, which is written in letter format, there were so many great challenges to transform it into a stage piece. Also, the kind of theatricality the novel afforded in terms of the design and bringing it to life on stage was really exciting. We had some great ideas early on about what we’d like to experiment with in terms of our set and how it was going to look as well as piecing together and ordering the story, so it would make sense on stage.
There also seemed to be a bit of a resurgence in vampire fiction and a fascination with vampires -they’ve come back into fashion in quite a big way – so it was a good time to be showing the origins of those myths and stories.
In our four week totally sold out sessions in Brisbane, we were looking at the audiences, and there was everyone from students studying the book, to older people who are fascinated with gothic fiction and there were those quite hard core vampire fans, who would come all dressed up, as a way of living this type of world … There are so many different types of people who enjoy this story.
Your role with this production has been very multi-faceted – you not only play Dracula himself, but you’ve been involved with adapting the book for stage. You mentioned how much of a challenge it was coming up with a script and sequence of events that would work on stage. Tell su a bit more about this …
It was pretty tricky. The book was just a series of letters, so there was the practical application of ordering the timeline of events chronologically, so it all made sense.
Then it was a question of distilling the novel as a whole – these stories are so rich and so big – they’re classics for a reason! So, it was a case of being selective about what you take out of it and put on stage. There would be some things that just wouldn’t work on stage in a play … So there was a lot of work in forming the story.
But, we like to remain relatively truthful to the stories and their adaptations; we don’t want to do anything drastic and aim to keep the essence of the novel, clarify a few things, and make it vivid and live …
I was so lucky to have the help of Nelle Lee in adapting this story; we shared the load.
And then of course, there was the great work of our actors and our director, Michael Futcher, who has a kind of an “outside eye”. When you write something, you tend to become very involved with it, so you need someone who can do what needs to be done for the good of the play.
As an actor, what’s it like to play Dracula?
It’s great! I’ve played lots of different characters … but Dracula is such an interesting character. He starts the play quite ancient, but as a process of his “feasting”, he gains his youth, life and vitality back. I get to anti-age, in a way! He’s quite a strong, still presence … It’s fun playing these types of characters, because they might not have to say or do a lot, but they permeate an entire scene by being there, even just in the shadows or the background. Drac is fun!
There was also the challenge of putting on a Romanian accent and putting that European vibe into the way he speaks. I’m really enjoying the whole process of this show, and I can’t wait to tour it around!
The costuming looks amazing … How long does it take you to get ready to go on stage?
Quite a long time! We’re still working out how that’s all going to happen. In Brisbane, we got into the theatre a good hour and a half/two hours before the show … There are latex prosthetics, lots of airbrushing, hair pieces, wigs … As Dracula starts old in the show, there are a lot of quick changes transforming out of this. There are a lot of costume changes during the show, stripping off bits of makeup …
Dracula is such an iconic character – people come to see this production with certain expectations, so we didn’t want to have the pointy fringe, with the huge scooped coat – we wanted to take it out of “schlock” territory and make it a bit more realistic and chilling …
Shake & Stir is known to have stunning and surprising elements on stage during shows. What can we expect of this nature during Dracula?
I think people will be excited – it’s quite a lavish production. There are little moments of theatrical effects … iconic moments from the novel about how Dracula enters and exits his castle that we really wanted to copy. We had to come up with some very modern solutions, including automation, but we also had to go old school with some theatre tricks and magic tricks. We worked with a magic advisor on the show, a pyrotechnician, flight school, a harness school. There’s some acrobatic flying … For people who may have seen Animal Farm or 1984, they were quite big in terms of production. This one takes it to the next level and really ramps it up! It’s a very exciting visual feast.
Thanks Nick. Interview by Jo Robinson.
See Dracula at the MEC on March 9th; 10:30am and 7:30pm.
Tickets: $55 adult; $50 pensioner; $35 student/U21.