The script for the theatre version of Dracula is a curious mixture of Bram Stoker’s own handwriting and printed extracts cut and pasted from the novel. The play was produced by Stoker in order to protect the dramatic rights to the book and a copyright reading took place at the Lyceum theatre, of which Stoker was the manager, on the morning of 18th May 1897. The role of Mina Murray was taken by Edith Craig, daughter of the actress Ellen Terry and a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement in England. Copies of the novel itself, with its iconic yellow cover and red lettering, appeared for sale later the same month.
The play follows the plot of the novel closely but, to propel the action forwards at a suitable pace for a theatre audience, many of the atmospheric and descriptive elements included in the book have been cut. As a result, much of the dialogue reads like plot exposition rather than natural speech. For example, in the opening scene Jonathan Harker finds himself at the door of Dracula’s castle, but has to relate his preceding nightmarish journey with the mysterious coachman to the audience in order for subsequent events in the play to make sense:
After a drive through solid darkness with an unknown man whose face I have not seen and who has in his hand the strength of twenty men and who can drive back a pack of wolves by holding up his hand, who visits mysterious blue flames and who wouldn’t speak a word that he could help, to be left here in the dark before a – a ruin.
In the novel Harker’s journey to the castle is related via diary entries and, as a result, is conveyed to the reader in an atmospheric and rather more leisurely fashion. Even allowing for the fact the play script was hastily put together, critics have suggested that the reason why the book works so well, and why the play version is rather stilted, is because Stoker was always more comfortable with dramatic descriptions and with the portrayal of atmosphere and setting than he was with dialogue. Dracula, the novel, works beautifully because it is largely told in the form of diary entries, newspaper articles and letters as opposed to conventional dialogue between the characters.
As the script progresses the number of printed extracts cut directly from the book and pasted to the pages increases significantly, suggesting once again the haste with which the script was put together. Even so the play provides a unique glimpse into the working methods of an author who, in Dracula, produced one of the most, enduring, inventive and eerily compelling novels of the 19th century.