MENTION Bram Stoker’s story of Dracula, the most famous of all vampires, and one’s mind turns immediately to Transylvania, the central location in the Irish author’s Gothic mythology.

Your thoughts might alight, too, on the picturesque coastal town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, which is another important location in Stoker’s novel.

You could be forgiven, however, for not instantly connecting the frightening story of the blood sucking aristocrat with the landscape of the North East of Scotland. Yet, here it reputedly was that Stoker took inspiration for his bleak imaginings of the architecture and terrain of Transylvania (which sits across parts of modern day Romania and Moldova).

It was during a stay at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel at Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire that the writer is said to have started visualising the spooky, continental settings for his novel. This Scottish connection is very much of interest to dramatist Morna Pearson, who hails from the North East of Scotland and is the author of the new play Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning.

The National: Playwright Morna PearsonPlaywright Morna Pearson (Image: Richard Frew Photography)

Written for the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), Pearson’s play, as its title suggests, considers Stoker’s story from the perspective of its central female protagonist, Mina Murray, the heroic sometime human vampire who plays a key role in ending Dracula’s reign of terror. For Pearson, like Stoker, a visit to Cruden Bay has been part of the writing process.

The most important place to visit, if one wants to get inside the mind of Stoker, Pearson explains, is Slains Castle. This substantial ruin was influential in Stoker’s imagining of Dracula’s Transylvanian castle.

“I went into Slains a couple of months ago,” the playwright tells me. “You can certainly feel the oppressive nature of it, even though it hasn’t got a roof anymore.”

Not only that, she continues, despite the obvious differences between the coastal area of Aberdeenshire where Stoker was staying and mountainous Transylvania, one can understand how the Irishman made an atmospheric connection. The “wildness” of Slains Castle and Cruden Bay would have spoken to Stoker, Pearson believes.

“Obviously [Slains Castle] is on the coast and Castle Dracula is in the forest, but you still get that ancient atmosphere,” she comments.

“Maybe it’s just because I’m from there,” the writer continues, “but I find [the North East] a very grounding place.” Having spent much of my childhood visiting family in what we always called Morayshire (but is officially designated Moray these days), I know exactly what Pearson means.

There is a raw, stark beauty to the natural world of the North East that demands one’s attention and connects with one’s emotions. It isn’t difficult to imagine this remarkable landscape playing an influential role in Stoker’s mind as he wrote Dracula.

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If a visit to Cruden Bay and its environs was part of Pearson’s preparation for writing her stage adaptation, a re-reading of the novel was, obviously, another. However, as she began her recent encounter with Stoker’s magnum opus, the playwright found, to her surprise, that she hadn’t, in fact, read the book before.

Rather, she discovered that what she had read in her teens was a much abridged version of the famous Gothic tale. It was, Pearson says, “quite a shock” to be faced with the story in its full, terrifying glory.

In her reading, the dramatist found that one of the things that struck her most was the “contribution and agency” of Mina Murray. This is the character, you might remember, who – as a consequence of her fiancé Jonathan Harker’s encounter with Dracula in Transylvania and the subsequent death of Mina’s friend Lucy Westenra at the hands (or, rather, the fangs) of the Count – becomes a brave vampire hunter.

Pearson has kept her adaptation very much in its late-Victorian era. The jumping-off point for the play is Mina recalling the supernatural story of Dracula in a psychiatric hospital in Aberdeenshire in 1897.

“I thought it was more interesting to examine a woman’s story in that time,” says the writer. This perspective is, I suggest, a potentially rich one for the future of theatre.

There are various ways of approaching the relative lack of lead female roles in the theatrical canon. One, of course, is to write new ones.

Another is to have female actors play the big, historically male roles (as the brilliant, Scotland-based, Zambian-Greek actor Nicole Cooper has done with a series of Shakespeare characters, including Hamlet and Coriolanus). Pearson, however, has alighted on a third approach: namely, to look at existing popular stories and refocus them towards a female protagonist.

The playwright agrees that her approach might be fruitful if applied more broadly. This is particularly so, she adds, because the film industry has proved to be so negligent in this regard.

“A lot of the film adaptations [of Dracula] seem to merge the characters of Lucy and Mina,” she observes. “They diminish the roles by merging them into one.”

It’s a question, the playwright says, of “who’s allowed to tell these stories”. In the 21st century, as many of the barriers to proper cultural representation are being challenged, the re-telling of well-known stories such as Dracula from the point-of-view of a female protagonist should, surely, be commonplace.

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On the subject of representation, the cast of Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning will be comprised entirely of female and non-binary actors, including the fine, young performer Danielle Jam (in the role of Mina) and excellent, experienced players Liz Kettle (as Dracula) and Anne Lacey. It is being directed by Sally Cookson (who has co-conceived the production with Pearson).

Women have, of course, won some very important legal and social victories across the UK since the late-Victorian era.

By keeping Stoker’s story in its time period, Pearson is, she says, able to depict Mina’s willingness “to push down the doors that are closed to her, for various reasons”.

A 19th-century, female vampire hunter, represented on-stage by a young woman of colour: let’s hope Pearson’s drama is a sign of more to come.

Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning tours from September 2 to October 28 and more information can be found HERE