Bram Stoker’s name has become forever associated with Dracula, one of literature’s most recognisable characters. That the novel has remained in print since its publication in 1897 is an indication of its enduring popularity. Following Stoker’s death in April 1912 his widow, Florence, lived on the proceeds of its dramatisations until she died in 1937. By that time, the film adaptation based on Hamilton Dean’s 1924 play and starring Bela Lugosi as the Count had already hit the screens. Regarded today as a classic, this version of the story was one of the first of hundreds of twentieth century adaptations, which have helped to make Dracula a household name, and which have firmly embedded the Gothic character in modern imaginations.
Bram and the Guv’nor- the play and exhibition showing this week at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust- offers its audiences a rare opportunity to meet the man who wrote the novel, in the guise of both author and theatre manager, as well as the man who conversely inspired its main character: Henry Irving. The two met in 1876 on the Dublin Theatre scene and became firm friends. When Irving took over the lease of the Lyceum Theatre, Stoker moved to London to become his Business Manager. It was during his time at the Lyceum that Stoker wrote his first novel , The Snake’s Pass (published in 1890), and his ‘masterpiece’, Dracula.
Bearing in mind the book’s great success, it is most interesting to consider that the only stage performance of Dracula in Stoker’s lifetime attracted a mere two paying punters! Taking the form of a dramatised reading bearing the title Dracula or the Un-dead, it took place at the Lyceum on 18 May 1897. Stoker’s manuscript of the play, held today by the British Library, betrays the haste in which it was prepared. It is perhaps just as interesting to note Henry Irving’s conspicuous absence from the cast list.
Jefny Ashcroft’s play, Bram and the Guv’nor, is inspired by the events and personalities associated with this production of Dracula. It is based on the Bram Stoker Collection, which is managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and some of this fascinating archival material will be on display following the performance. This event offers visitors the opportunity to discover more about the circumstances surrounding the performance of Dracula or the Un-dead, as well as about the author of this iconic novel, his life and work, his social circle and his influences.
Bram and the Guv’nor is showing this week at the SBT. It is on on 16 May at 6.30pm, and on 17 and 20 May at 1pm. To book your tickets, please visit https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit/whats-on/bram-and-guvnor