Fangs for everything

Dracula at Sandal Castle.
Dracula at Sandal Castle.

Heartbreak Productions are bringing their version of Dracula to Botanical Gardens this weekend in a departure from their usual repertoire of outdoor productions.

“It’s good for the company to do something a bit more risqué than the usual fare,” says Nigel Billing, who plays both Dracula and his arch-enemy Van Helsing.

The scenario for the show is that the audience are gathered to hear readings from the journal of Jonathan Harker and his encounters with Dracula at his memorial service where the undertakers get carried away and start acting out the story instead.

“We don’t take it too seriously,” says Billing. “There are laughs, but there still is a bit of horror, rather than being straight and serious.”

The actor is having a great time playing the title role: “He is a monster ultimately. In the first part of the play he’s an old, creepy, manipulative and horrible creature. Then he goes to London to seek some fresh blood and makes himself younger and romps around a bit!

“Then he kills Lucy and is chased by Van Helsing.”

The actor admits he gets cast as a villain quite a lot. “At the same time Van Helsing is a hero, which is good, and quite opposite to him. It’s good for an actor, having that juxtaposition of roles to get into,” he says.

“Most people think of Dracula as either Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman. In this piece he’s more of a presence, a constant theme throughout the whole show. It’s not a huge part. There’s a lot of scenes where he doesn’t say anything, he’s just doing his thing, so it’s about finding a way of doing that and making it enjoyable for people.

“Dracula’s not a hugely animated person so I’ve been finding ways to make him more interesting. On the other hand, Van Helsing talks a huge amount. We all play different roles and everyone doubles up.”

The play is quite a faithful adaptation of the original Bram Stoker novel, according to the actor.

Performing outdoors has its own challenges. “We use staging and props to create different times within the story. There’s always something going on. Those are things about the play that people are enjoying as much as the story itself.”

Billing, who lives in Cornwall and works as a chef or painter and decorator in between acting jobs, has toured with Heartbreak before and is looking forward to coming back to Sheffield. “It’s always good fun. Audiences in Sheffield, the North-East and Manchester are really up for it.”

Dracula is at the Botanical Gardens today to Saturday, visit