Designing Dracula

Interview with costume and set designers, Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith

Bram Stokers Classic novel Dracula is one of the world’s most retold stories. When we approached the design for the Ballet we were keen to find a visual language to express Krzysztof’s idea of moving away from the usual horror story and to bring out the gothic romantic side of the tale.

We began by doing extensive research into the period. Not simply to reproduce exact architecture but to give the audience the feel of the time. During this period Queen Victoria was in morning so wore black lace with even jewellery made of black Jet (a stone derived from coal). We were also inspired by Daguerreotypes (photographs on glass). These images often fade to black around the edge and was exactly how we felt the set should look. We wanted the audience to be aware of details disappearing into the darkness, giving the feeling there was something beyond your vision. We realised that fear is connected to what cant be seen, so the sets feature translucent materials to create ghostly images throughout.

We used Victorian lace as the basis for the vaulting rather than reproduction exact gothic architectural detailing to envelope the stage. The novel takes place in 1897 and mentions many precise locations in London. These coincided with the horrific unsolved murders carried out by Jack the Ripper. So to a contemporary reader the places mentioned would have a very immediate recognition of fear. For this reason we wanted to include a map of London of the exact date into the scenery. This bleeds into the walls of the London Salon sets. We were also inspired by the romantic painters of the period and the grave yard set is a homage to the work of Casper David Friedrich.

Charles detailed historical costume designs comprise of over 150 costumes. Throughout the production Count Dracula wears multiple costumes comprising of fabrics sourced as far away as Hong Kong and Germany. One of the costumes pays homage to Vlad the Impaler, who is widely believed to have been Stockers inspiration for count Dracula. His work was recognised with being awarded best Costume design in the West Australian Arts awards for the original production with the set design also receiving a nomination for set best design.