[Victoria Fringe 2023] Renfield, or Dining at the Bughouse – A Review

Sometimes, you just have to dive deep into the madness that created Renfield, or Dining at the Bughouse as it takes a bite at what created him, even before meeting Dracula!

Renfield or, Dining at the BughouseBram Stoker’s Dracula has left an indelible impression on pop culture, and there are many ways to read into the tale. For playwright Bill Zaget (who also performed this show at Montreal Fringe), what he’s taken from it is a new way to present the madman who declared this vampire, “Master!” In Renfield, or Dining at the Bughouse, this performer gives this character a life that’s different from what I recall from the book. By stripping away the world, what he recounts of his childhood (which has never been told before) is haunting.

While some people may get bothered by the allusions to child abuse and sexual misconduct, thankfully it’s just fiction. The story is told from the point of view of him regressing to a point of view of an eight-year-old. At other times, an insectoid perspective (basically, what he ate) gets used. As a result, I can’t help but be reminded of classical myths where these bugs are revered and even feared for one reason or another. They often lead to a chrysalis, a metamorphosis, to a new state of mind. What Zaget offers is mesmerising when he gets to that point with the stories presented within a story.

But, at the same time, I’m left wondering when what he’s presenting will connect with the novel. Technically, this talent isn’t meant to give audiences moments to suggest that, but I couldn’t help but notice a few direct references like mention of St. George’s Eve and Vlad the Impaler, along with mention of a doctor and knowing how Dracula made his way to England.

One key detail involves how the literary version is quite tied to the saying, “Blood is the Life!” and this stage show has never once coined this phrase. Instead, what’s studied is the etymological development of entomology. That is, what is the role of bees, spiders, and caterpillars to life everlasting? In the book, Renfield sought immortality, and believed eating these creatures could help. Although the latter was not mentioned, had this play been another fifteen minutes longer, they would’ve been added to the discourse.

One detail that’s just right is this performer’s age. As both he and Renfield are in their his late 50s, for him to play the character is perfect! Also, I was reminded of Cronenberg’s The Fly in his physical performance and in the way he talks about how he can’t digest certain meals. Unless it’s been turned into disgusting enzymes, this character can’t suck it up. Thankfully, what’s presented here ends on a distinct note, and I was left wondering when Master will appear to spirit Renfield away.

The way he exits the narrative should be well known–he dies. Unless we’re a fly on the wall ourselves to witness this moment when Dracula visits, and I’d love to know exactly when in the novel does this play take place, if at all. If I remember correctly, he makes about four appearances throughout the entire book, and what’s staged here hints at an additional moment where his life is hanging in the balance, until he goes splat.

Renfield, or Dining at the Bughouse Remaining Shows:

Aug 27 03:45 pm
Aug 29 07:45 pm
Aug 30 07:45 pm
Sep 01 09:30 pm

For tickets to the Victoria Fringe Festival, please visit the official webpage for this performance here.

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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