A vampire in times of fake news: Actually a good idea in Johanna Wehner’s production of the “Dracula” classic. But it doesn’t go far.
Dracula at the Frankfurt Theater Photo: Arno Declair
No bite, no greedy look. Not even a hint of the monstrous remains of Dracula, this prince of darkness. In Johanna Wehner’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s world classic (1897) for the Frankfurt Schauspiel, we instead become aware of a grizzled, almost bored revenant. If anything, the monumental backdrop (stage: Benjamin Schönecker) alone gives an idea of the splendor of days gone by. A staircase with high windows rises up before our eyes.
The roof structure has long been dilapidated and the plaster is crumbling. A ruin is evidence of the Vampire King’s castle, which welcomes its visitors with an old drinks machine in the reception area.
Well, what can you even expect from this residual Dracula? Above all, misanthropy, as the undead seems to be increasingly annoyed by people’s rumors. About the chatter about the red eyes, about the general “whirlwind of fantasy”. Sometimes the title hero, played by Matthias Redhammer, calls out “it’s all nonsense!” or “it’s all a lie!” But in vain.
The close-knit group with all the well-known characters from the prose work, from the somnambulist cemetery-goer Lucy (Judith Florence Ehrhardt) to the vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing (Heidi Ecks), becomes increasingly delusional in the foreground in the threat scenarios posed by the bloodsucker, while the story completely fades into the background.
Stake in the heart
Yes, Wehner also has the lawyer Jonathan (Christoph Bornmüller) set off for Transylvania to conclude a real estate deal with the sinister count, and yes, in this stage version too, the latter later crosses the Atlantic, commits suicide on the lawyer’s future wife, Mina, and is killed for this with a stake through the heart.
The ensemble mentions all of this, but the focus is on fear, the phantasm of horror that grows into fanaticism. Although the director does not make a single allusion to our contemporary society, which is shaken by fake news, it turns out to be the main addressee of this production. As if the players were caught up in the viral posts of our day, they often murmur the words “Singing in my ears” to themselves in a trance-like manner, reminiscent of a growing, dangerous ulcer.
Dracula as a foil for the nervous era of explosive shit-storm and scaremongering? One would think that it is actually an innovative approach to the text. But unfortunately the idea doesn’t carry over the arrangement, which lasts almost two hours. Where so much is retold to us, nothing happens on the level of the visible action. In order to reflect the character of the epistolary novel, the characters sometimes run from right to left as they recite their text, as if on lines.
Sometimes those who claim “We are the right ones” gather together to intone the ironic song “It takes little to be happy”, sometimes they wander around the dance floor controlled by seemingly foreign forces.
The infectious fantasy
The tough demeanor is accompanied by eerie piano tones. The credo always applies: Nothing should really be represented. This is the only way to turn the supposed machinations of Dracula, who mostly passively follows the whole thing, into an infectious fantasy. As radical as this concept may seem, hardly any picture generates any added value, and not a single lasting moment remains from this performance.
And then this question: What couldn’t we have worked out from this myth today? What is the current situation with the vampire as a melancholic contemporary critic like in Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”? What good is the late modern dandy in “Interview with a Vampire”? Or even: What role does the revenant still play as a warning sign of neo-fascist activities, as Friedrich W. Murnau once portrayed him in “Nosferatu”?
Ultimately, Frankfurt’s Dracula stands somewhat helpless in the room, tired and completely drained of blood.