"Yesterday I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Felixstowe’s Two Sisters Arts Centre to see the play Dracula’s Guest, an adaption of works by Bram Stoker. The play, produced by Brother Wolf Productions starred award-winning actor James Hyland, who wrote the adaption, and also Ashton Spear. I was so impressed! As I said on their page, it was pure gothic spectacle – very ‘Webster’. Dark, brooding, ironic, hyperbolic, brilliant! It was unnerving from the moment I stepped in to hear the creepy music box tinkling... I was literally on the edge of my seat – and I do mean literally- leaning forward and intensely fixed on every twitch, snarl and spurt of blood! I managed to escape without a splash even though I was in the front row... Hannibal Lector hasn’t nothing on James Hyland’s psychopathic Dracula and the Jekyll to Hyde transformation of Renfield was so disturbing and animalistic that I forgot to drink my wine! The ‘death-dance’ was one of the memorably disturbing parts, both erotic and horribly brutal. Hyland had slowly built up to this climactic moment from a calm and rational psychopath, which was wholly realistic, showing us glimmers of his instability, to his violent explosive darker self. I also particularly enjoyed the brilliance of his projected whisper, which was so sinister I physically recoiled... In the final terrifying climax, I felt like I had travelled back in time – I was a Jacobean spectator watching a Websterian revenge and horror fest. And to be honest, I had already found myself sympathising a little with the Count in that way the psychopath always begins to convince you his argument is right – was his anger justified? There were no women in this play, but the fate of a woman was seemingly at the centre of Dracula’s rage. Did his past justify his actions towards Renfield? It might explain it at least… In this production, as in Stoker’s novel, ideas about Imperialism, revenge, sexual repression, salvation, madness and redemption are explored... As in the best gothic tales, we are forced to confront the possibility of ‘evil’ being within all and any of us. I felt an extraordinary sense of catharsis at the end, and that wine was much needed. I could say so much more – but this is not an academic essay – my best advice is to go and see it for yourself. However, remember to eat first though, I didn’t fancy a lot of food later!"
~Virginia Betts, PUBLISHED AUTHOUR & ENGLISH TUTOR
Original Source: https://virginiabetts.com/2022/11/26/draculas-guest
"The thrilling tale of 'Dracula's Guest' by Brother Wolf... Ashton Spear and James Hyland bring a haunting Victorian horror story to life, contemplating death, revenge, morality, and spite. As part of the Old Red Lion Theatre's GRIMFEST, I attended a haunting production of Dracula's Guest, put on by Brother Wolf, an art/theatre company. The scene opens with a dimly lit sparse stage and eerie music floating through the room. Seeing this play on the night of Halloween certainly added to the atmosphere! The character of Mr. Renfield rocks back and forth, and his superb physical acting was evident from the moment the play began. To those of you familiar with the works of Bram Stoker, Mr. Renfield's character in this play is a convergence of both Renfield (a patient in an insane asylum) and Jonathan Harker (an English solicitor) - though prior knowledge of the story is not necessary, as the plot quickly becomes clear. More than anything, it is the psyche of the two main characters - Renfield and Dracula - which pushes the play forward. Mr. Renfield, a prisoner in the castle of Dracula, questions why he has been brought here. In turn, Dracula mocks and tortures him, carrying out a twisted revenge plan which unravels as the play goes on. What is fascinating about this version of events, is the unique perspective of Dracula - in a way, he is a victim in his own right. He is a victim of colonisation, and of the British Empire, as this play adds a thought-provoking commentary on loss and love. Despite the clear evil radiating off Dracula, through him, we learn what it means to be harmed and to thus cause harm in return. This play is not for the faint of heart, as it is deeply uncomfortable at times - though that is what makes it so wonderful. The essence of the Dracula story is captured here. It is a stripped-back performance, as we are invited into the psyche of two characters. The simplicity and claustrophobia of the setting make the voice and physical acting more prominent. Renfield captures the essence of a prisoner, flitting between shudders of fear and moments of clarity, as he remembers his inner strength. Dracula is elusive, as he perfectly characterises a manipulator - he is charming, yet brief fits of rage unveil his true nature. Dracula's gaslighting of Renfield is particularly powerful, as his attempts to make Renfield doubt his own reality bled into the audience. Dracula cites Renfield's "interpretation" as being the cause of his insanity, and as a viewer, we are also forced to question our interpretations of the play and its characters. Whilst Dracula is undoubtedly committing a truly evil act, the play blurs the line between victim and perpetrator. This is brought to a head, as ultimately, Renfield's insanity takes hold, and he becomes a Dracula-esque character, seeking revenge and becoming full of hate and spite. Of course, there were a few moments of morbid comedy which cannot go unmentioned. Without spoiling anything too much, if you watch this play, keep an eye out for the phrase "love thy neighbor", and for any plastic heads! This fascinating play is perfect for those looking for a Bram Stoker reinterpretation or for a dark psychological exploration of loss, revenge, and death."
~Kashmini Shah, VOICE MAGAZINE
"Gothic horror stories have intrigued and entertained audiences for many years. In 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published and since that time thousands of versions and interpretations of this famous work have followed. Dracula’s Guest is a two-act performance where Dracula ( James Hyland) tries persuading his “guest” Renfield (Ashton Spear) to become one with him. Hyland, commands and dominates the stage from the beginning. His powerful beguiling voice has you jumping in your seats on many occasions. The cleverly scripted narcissistic manipulated mind games that he uses against his guest/victim Renfield at times leave you questioning what the truth is. Very much in keeping with how narcissistic people behave. The strong physical performance between Hyland and Spear was breathtaking at times. Every punch, throw and strangulation appeared authentic. The powerful performance by the two actors demonstrates a crucial sense of mutual trust and respect between them. One wrong move could have seen either one of them seriously injured. Dracula”s iconic cape and fangs have been exchanged for a smart mourning suit. Giving Dracula’s character a softer aesthetic impression. Contrasted against Renfield who we first see when entering the Theatre, rocking on the chair in a tatty white shirt which at one time would have been smart. The image of a worn-down emprisoned shell of a man who is sitting awaiting his inevitable doom is set out before us. Staged around a long table with a severed pig’s head placed in the centre of it. As the play develops the audience learns that it’s riddled with maggots and is rotting. When Renfield finally relents and takes a bite my stomach turned, a word of warning just takes a deep breath for what takes place next! Sitting in the front row there was a genuine feeling of unease when Hyland came too close. It’s extremely unlikely he would have broken the fourth wall and spoken to the audience directly but the energy and tension levels were running high from his performance as Dracula that anything would have been possible. Adapted and directed by Hyland as well it is evident throughout the performance that he understands every twist and turn that is taken. Directing himself in some of those scenes cannot have been easy and demonstrate a strong sense of self-awareness. Unfortunately, tonight was their last performance at The White Bear Theatre. I hope it will be transferred to another Theatre for future audiences to experience. Although I believe that this production would make also transfer across to become an excellent radio play using the same two actors."
~Elaine Chapman, THEATRE, FILMS AND ART REVIEWS
"James Hyland is very good indeed at adapting classic texts and coming at them from a fresh point of view. I’ve seen him in at least three one-man takes on nineteenth century novels being both powerful and riveting. This time it’s a two hander, very focused adaptation with the excellent Ashton Spear as Renfield against Hyland’s own Count Dracula. At just sixty minutes it’s appropriately succinct. It would be hard to sustain (or to watch) such relentless intensity for much longer. Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel is epistolary and, therefore set in various places. Hyland’s version is staged in one claustrophobic room in Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania with a minimalist set: two chairs, a table, a pig’s head and a sword – along with a menacing musical box. Hyland is magnificent and terrifying. His voice ranges from soft cajoling to what a musician would call a subito fortissimo and he does it repeatedly so that neither you, the audience member, or Renfield within the play can relax for a second. He is a very dangerous man (or something) and the dramatic tension is sharply arresting. Somehow the fact that Hyland in this role looks like the then Prince of Wales (who became Edward VII four years after Dracula was published) makes it feel all the more shocking. And although there’s nothing as corny or predictable as pointy teeth the scenes in which Dracula attacks Renfield fall somewhere between a hideous macabre dance and a rape. The synergy between these two actors, as they spar around each other in what is effectively a power struggle, is what drives this fine show. Moreover I have rarely seen a more convincing account of on-stage insanity building to a manic climax than Spear’s work here. And the finale with fake blood is masterly. It could easily degenerate into melodrama. In the event it’s horrifyingly realistic."
~Susan Elkin, SARDINES MAGAZINE
Original Source: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/draculas-guest
"Brother Wolf presents this creative adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest. The title is suitably euphemistic as it is revealed that Mr Renfield is being held against his will as Dracula continually glosses over this with a grandiose/ mocking hospitality. Dracula delves into the past, mapping out the scene to an eventual conclusion in which Renfield is forced to choose between two diabolical options. In the intimate studio space, the stage is minimal with a table, two chairs and a few props. One of which is a rotting pig’s head on a platter, a constant reminder of the grim, uneasy undercurrent. An eerie environment is instantly established as Dracula walks in with an open music box. There is a chilling atmosphere as you envision them surrounded by the gloomy walls and maze of a castle. Both actors gave vocally flawless and emotively rich performances. James Hyland’s Dracula is perfectly extravagant with a veneer that masks his emptiness but enough emotion to hint at his former living self. His calculating nature is disguised by a dangerously charming front. Hyland’s movements are smooth and deliberate. He is not the conventional Dracula as there is a business/showman aspect to his performance that is particularly unsettling as it is incongruous to his secluded lifestyle. His intensity and ferocity is terrifying, even in silence it is concentrated in his sharp, devious eyes. Ashton Spear’s Renfield is morally robust and stubborn. Shaking and disturbed throughout as Dracula gaslights him, Renfield is tortured as he doubts or defends himself. The two orchestrate this claustrophobic power dynamic excellently. Renfield’s transformation was gripping and intense and felt strangely intrusive to watch. It was horrific but mesmerising. Spear’s movements and utterances were instinctive and animalistic. There could have been more variation is Renfield’s character as he was either shaking or scared or shouting and whilst this does elicit pity, the ending would have been more shocking if we had laughed as well as cried with him.
Hyland’s adaptation feels like a warning to the motivations and secret agendas of others. A huge theme throughout is also the delusion of conflating a person with a place and holding them responsible for what their ancestors have done. This play is politically relevant with fascinating psychological aspects and is a brilliantly clever, albeit disturbing take on a classic."
~Riana Howarth, NORTH WEST END UK
Original Source: https://northwestend.com/draculas-guest-white-bear-theatre
"Widely understood to have been the intended first chapter of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ – removed when regarded as superfluous to the rest of the novel – in this adaptation, we saw the importance of Dracula’s Guest reinstated. James Hyland has reawakened this somewhat neglected tale, providing it with new meaning and using it as a vessel to explore modern-day themes. The play began with an already tortured R.M. Renfield, practically writhing in his seat, conveying to us that we arrived at the character’s story long after it had begun. The decision to use Renfield – an already mentally unwell character – as Dracula’s guest, was an interesting one but worked perfectly to highlight themes of madness and manipulation, also allowing exploration and expansion of such an interesting character. Played by Michael Shon, Renfield’s ‘sanguine personality’ which he was said to have possessed in the original telling of Dracula, had evidently been drained from him, following mental and emotional torture from his host. Dracula’s calculated maddening tactics show him essentially gaslighting Renfield, in a deliberate attempt to drive him insane. We see Dracula – played terrifically by James Hyland – toying with him at every word, like a cat to a mouse; it’s almost comical for the audience until deeper and darker themes are uncovered. Upon leaving the theatre I heard an audience member describe the performance as short, but remarkably intense which seems an apt summary. Hyland and Shon transformed Dracula’s Guest, delivering a 124-year-old tale as if it were new. This was the perfect choice of story to breathe new life into, applicable to modern-day themes yet true to Victorian gothic horror. Following the performance, I was keen to know some more about the show, so got in touch with Artistic Director and Founder of Brother Wolf, James Hyland, who told me a little more about his version of Dracula’s Guest, as well as what we can expect from Brother Wolf.
~Eloise Lonsdale, OX MAGAZINE
Original Source: www.oxmag.co.uk/articles/review-draculas-guest
"It's not often I come across an adaptation as startlingly original, and yet true to its source material, as Brother Wolf's "Dracula's Guest". From the off, we are treated to a detailed character study involving two nuanced individuals who, through no fault of their own, are slaves to their fate and thus prisoners to its demands. Suffice to say, it is a truly intense theatrical experience, the quality of which rivals the very best of what the West End has to offer. As a Gothic horror aficionado, I can honestly say that "Dracula's Guest" is, at least for me, the Godfather of vampire adaptations. Unique, powerful and timely with thrilling performances by two actors at the top of their game. Absolutely unmissable."
~Mark Carter, BRITISH THEATRE JOURNAL
"This was the first time I've seen a bald, stocky, loquacious Dracula, but it worked! He spends most of the first half gaslighting Renfield, but then things take an unexpected turn or two. This is a very well-written and acted piece which holds the attention throughout and does not outstay its welcome."
~Martin Dowsing, THE AUDIENCE CLUB
"Described as 'based on the works of Bram Stoker', I wondered – is this going to be an adaptation of the eponymous short story? Or something else entirely? The play opens with a twitchy, dishevelled and distinctly haggard-looking young man, seated at a long dining table upon which is placed a severed pig’s head on a silver salver. The young man is soon joined by an older, more urbane looking man who addresses him as Mr. Renfield…. So, this is obviously not a reworking of Stoker's short story about the unnamed traveller who takes an excursion to an abandoned village on Walpurgis Night and finds himself sheltering from a snowstorm in a derelict graveyard… Perhaps, then, we are being told Renfield’s backstory – before he ends up in Dr. Seward’s asylum? But no, this reworking of Dracula's story has a rather different emphasis. Revisiting the series of conversations between Dracula and Jonathan Harker in Stoker's novel, here we have chartered surveyor Renfield, who - like Harker – now realises he is a prisoner rather than a 'guest', and is becoming ever more desperate. Dracula, meanwhile, appears charming, hospitable and plausible – yet will not let Renfield leave his castle. And it is the discussion between the two protagonists that is the focus of the play. Dracula has become embittered after reliving centuries of memories – of lost love, and past glories defending his country from invaders, while Renfield espouses the values of Victorian expansionism. The debate increases in intensity as Dracula reveals the only terms upon which Renfield can leave, and we arrive at the final, gory and blood-spattered, climax. Excellent performances from Michael Shon as Renfield and James Hyland as Dracula; in the intimate enclosed space of the White Bear theatre, this is just about the most intense 55 minutes of drama you’re ever likely to encounter.
~Julia Kruk, THE DRACULA SOCIETY
"An INCREDIBLE performance... 55 minutes of nerve-shredding suspense and a final scene that's guaranteed to shock you out of your seat and give you nightmares for weeks. This diabolical descent into Victorian Gothic horror is a must-see."
~Peter Fuller, VINCENT PRICE LEGACY UK
"Climbing the stairs to the black room we discovered in the corner of the stage the disheveled figure of a man (Ashton Spear) slumped in a chair. This is Renfield a quantity surveyor who, as we will find out over the next 55 minutes has been contracted by Count Dracula to both survey the castle and to teach him English, but has unfortunately been confined to the vampire’s residence because of the plague running rampant through the countryside. Keening to the sound of a music box playing the same tune over and over again Renfield awaits his host, the immaculately turned out Count Dracula (James Hyland) to arrive for their evening repast. Quite evidently through his incarceration Renfield has developed a really bad case of Stockholm syndrome, but still finds himself resisting the choices that Dracula has to offer him, whether to partake of the vampires blood and join the legion of the undead or eat from the rancid maggoty buffet and become his slave. This is a Dracula who while motivated with both a hunger to feed and a desire for revenge against the representatives of those who have made him what he has become, is also weary of his eternal existence. How much of a diversion will this cowering Englishman offer him? Dracula’s Guest is a pretty powerful slab of theatre. While it was a little slow to begin the pace of the narrative soon picked up as the two protagonists steadily ratcheted up their performance to transform an intriguing victim/captor conversation piece into an extraordinarily violent physical drama with strong homo-erotic overtones as it reached its bloody conclusion. We give it a 666/666 so go see it while you can."
~SIMON'S HORRIBLE HOTHOUSE OF HORROR
"The play is basically a two-hander between Renfield, played by Ashton Spear, and James Hyland portraying Dracula. James also adapted it, produced it, and directed it. A simple long table with a black cloth draped over it. Renfield in a chair, and a pig's head greeted us as we entered in the darkness. As the plays starts, Dracula appears and, unlike the short story written by Bram Stoker, we are taken on a psychological journey between the men. Renfield, like Jonathan Harker in 'Dracula', is a prisoner in Dracula's castle, and is being tortured by Dracula in many ways. Dracula plays on Renfield's state of mind, partly caused by this imprisonment, and teases him. Some weightier issues come to the fore in their conversations, including Dracula blaming England for its colonization of the world, rather than Dracula's Transylvanian historical adventures, hinting at his military past. Dracula physically throws Renfield about the stage, which comes as a bit of a shock, from time to time, and firmly makes Renfield feel he is the truly mad man in the room. The pig's head represents Dracula's attempt to make Renfield eat, who it appears is trying to starve himself. And to be honest, the sight of the pig's head is enough to put you off eating! There is sword play, and plenty of surprises, and some clever effects in this production. The production company is called Brother Wolf, and it only had a short five day run at The White Bear theatre this time. We really enjoyed it. It runs only 55 minutes, with no interval... and when you see the abuse poor Renfield gets, you begin to feel sorry for him! The man must be black and blue by the end of the day. Do keep any eye out for it."
~Des Bradley, VOICES FROM THE VAULTS
"The show is a two-handed re-imagining of Bram Stoker's seminal Gothic novel, rather than a direct portrayal of the author's short story of the same name. Although there are some similarities with the original piece, the play focuses on the titular Dracula and his clearly unwilling Guest, a character you will be familiar with from the novel, although not who you might be expecting! Through the course of 50 or so minutes, the audience was treated to a wildly vicious and vindictive vamp, taunting and teasing his Guest as he spiralled further into insanity. The characters generated feelings in the audience from shock to disgust, and occasional sympathy for both. Our emotions were further assaulted by the intimate, almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the small performance space and the professional projection from the two actors. As a fan of the original work, I found the premise fascinating, and was thrilled as I pondered the purpose of rewriting the piece to feature an interesting but fairly minor character from the novel. The ending came with a truly terrifying twist that few expected and left us with more questions. A thoroughly enjoyable hour. Heartily recommended!"
Original Source: https://www.scaretour.co.uk/draculas-guest---white-bear-theatre.html