How Bram Stoker's Dracula is being brought to life in a one man show which is touring Yorkshire

Actor James Gaddas is currently touring with his one man show of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with several Yorkshire dates. Phil Penfold reports.

We all know the story of Dracula. Don’t we?

Actor James Gaddas lifts a politely enquiring eyebrow and asks: “Really, do we? I’ll agree that we all think that we know this incredible tale, but, come on and put your hands up – who can actually admit that they’ve read every page of it, the novel from cover to cover? Very few, I suspect.

“What we know it from, or acquaintance with the legend, is through the scores of versions that have been made for the screen”.

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Actor James Gaddas is currently touring with his one man show of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with several Yorkshire dates.Actor James Gaddas is currently touring with his one man show of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with several Yorkshire dates.
Actor James Gaddas is currently touring with his one man show of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with several Yorkshire dates.

James, however, has indeed consumed the book, from first page to the last, and while he is far too modest a person to claim to be any sort of an expert, he would now stand a pretty good chance of getting an excellent score, if he was ever to nominate Bram Stoker’s masterpiece of 1897 as his specialist subject on Mastermind.

Gaddas (61) is now taking his one-man show around the UK, and he is delighted that audiences are already picking up on the multi-layered legendary suspense yarn.

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He openly admits that this was his “lockdown project”, and says that, along with so many other actors, performers, musicians and just about everyone connected with the entertainment business in its broadest sense, he found himself skidding to a creative halt as the spectre of Covid advanced, and live appearances disappeared.

“Strangely”, he says, “the story resonated with me, even as a youngster, and I must have been all of eleven years old or so when I saw it on TV in one of the movie versions which starred Christopher Lee – why would it not? All blood and fangs and gore, and hiding behind the sofa.

It scared the very devil out of me!

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“But, as I grew older, I realized that one got the real scares, the frisson of the hair standing up on the back of the neck, not from the poor woman screaming fit to bust at Mr Lee, but from what the audiences didn’t see in horror films.

“The classic example is the shower scene in Psycho is far more frightening because we don’t get the image of the knife going in – that’s a perfect example. It’s all left to the imagination, which is far better.”

Picking up his copy of the book (most of which Stoker wrote in Whitby, amassing over a hundred pages of notes, many of which were influenced by local folklore and fact, as well as material from Transylvania) Gaddas also quickly realized that “if I was going to bring everything on the page to the theatre, we’d all be sitting indoors for about fifteen hours. And that just couldn’t be allowed to happen. I had to go for another angle, and to do quite a lot of filleting on the original text. I had to have a very different ‘take’ on it.

“It was a case of reading it over and over again, and to decide what worked to deliver a sense of ominous presence”. The other main decision was how the story would be told “because it is observed from so many, many varied angles.

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“Stoker was a master at reflecting so many images, each acutely observed from a different narrative source. If it was going to be done conventionally, then I’d have to get together a cast of a dozen or more, all of them playing multiple roles.

“Let’s face it – was that going to happen after lockdown was lifted? The theatre being in the state that it is these days, slowly getting back to life again, and with strict budgeting, the answer was obviously going to be ‘no’.”

So, Stockton-born Gaddas, whose career has included everything from Bad Girls to Hollyoaks, Emmerdale to Heartbeat and Medics on TV, and a string of theatre highlights in shows like Billy Elliott, Mamma Mia! and The Girls, took a big breath – and a big decision. He was going to play all of the fifteen parts in the show himself.

The result, he believes, is a “very seductive thriller”, and his hunches seem to be right, for audiences are lapping it up, thoroughly engrossed in Stoker’s story.

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“The really odd thing is”, laughs Gaddas, “is that dear old Bram Stoker had a great deal of respect for Whitby and its people, all of whom were unfailingly generous to him. I’d have loved to have played it in a venue there, a genuine thank you to the man and to the town.

“But we couldn’t find a single suitable venue. Not one. When we take it out again later in the year, which I’d love to do, maybe someone can offer some ideas? I’m waiting to hear them…”

Dracula is at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, February 17 and 18. York Grand Opera House February 21. Bridlington Spa Theatre, March 24 and at Leeds City Varieties, April 5.