(Caroline Butterwick’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/3; Cape fear … Bela Lugosi in a publicity still for the 1931 film of Dracula. Photograph: Universal/Allstar.)

The iconography of modern vampires can be traced back to a 1924 English stage version of Bram Stoker’s novel. On its centenary, the suave bloodsucker is returning to where it all began

With his high-collared cape and piercing fangs, Dracula is every inch the quintessential vampire – instantly recognisable across culture. Portrayed hundreds of times in film, theatre, video games and spin-off books, the character is always evolving – an evolution that began in Derby.

When the curtain rose at Derby’s Grand theatre in May 1924, the monster of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel was transformed into an elegant figure, swooping around the stage in a long opera cloak. Written by Irish actor and playwright Hamilton Deane, the first authorised play of Dracula premiered here, and went on to shape how the character was adapted by Hollywood. “Derby is the genesis point for the visualisation of Count Dracula,” says Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and co-author of Dracula: The Un-Dead, a sequel to Dracula.

A 14-month programme of events will mark the 100th anniversary of Dracula’s first appearance on stage, under the banner of Dracula Returns to Derby, an Art and Humanities Research Council-funded project led by the University of Derby that will celebrate and explore this legacy.

The recognition is long overdue. In 2019, Dr Matthew Cheeseman, associate professor of creative writing at the University of Derby, realised the connection while writing a preface for The Derby Critical Edition of Dracula. “It was something no one else really talked about,” says Cheeseman, who is leading the Dracula Returns to Derby project. “What Derby gave was freedom to adapt the character.”

The 1924 production took place at the Grand theatre, now an adult crazy golf venue. Adapting the novel into that first official staging came with challenges. “Number one was to get Florence Stoker – Bram’s widow – to agree,” says Dacre. Florence was in dispute over the unauthorised adaptation of Dracula into Nosferatu, FW Murnau’s celebrated 1922 silent film. “So she was under great stress,” says Dacre. “But she had some comfort because Hamilton Deane was an Irishman from the same area that Bram was from. Before the novel was published, Bram had laid the groundwork by holding a staged reading at the Lyceum theatre in London. In terms of the dramatic rights, that was writing a blank cheque and leaving it to her.”

While she won the Nosferatu case, with a court ruling that all copies of the film should be destroyed (thankfully some survived), Florence didn’t get any money, as the film’s production company was bankrupt. But winning “gave her the conviction to go to somebody and get this thing on stage”.

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