Danielle Jam first graced TV screens on CBeebies’ Molly and Mack.
Now, she’s a leading lady in Scottish theatre, currently shining as Mina in, Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning. This fresh take on Bram Stoker’s classic boasts a feminist twist with an all-female/non-binary cast, delving into power dynamics. We caught up with Danielle for the scoop…
Please introduce yourself …
I have been working as an actor for the past 5 years. I’ve been in several theatre productions touring Scotland and England including Rona Munro’s James IV: Queen of the Fight and Isobel McArthur’s Kidnapped. I’m on CBeebies in Molly and Mack as Daisy the Vet, and BBC Scotland’s Scot Squad playing PC Eleanor Hipgrave. My heritage is White Scottish, Anglo-Indian and Nigerian. I grew up in Aberdeen and studied Acting at NESCol then Queen Margaret and Edinburgh Napier Universities. I am now based in Glasgow.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
Going from high-intensity performances and lots of travel to relaxing at home and enjoying the last of the sunshine.
What started you on this particular career path?
It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I saw my friend perform at our community centre so I joined that drama group and never looked back. My family are film buffs and my grandma took me to the theatre a lot. My Dad’s side of the family is very expressive when sharing stories and my Mum’s side is very artsy, so I grew up around their kind of creativity. Teachers encouraged me to pursue it further and my parents always supported me, taking me to amateur dramatics and supporting me financially when I went to study in Edinburgh.
Tell us about your character ‘Mina‘ in Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning …
Mina Murray is a ‘New Woman’ in 1890s Scotland. She teaches at the orphanage she grew up in. She loves birds and wishes she could be as free as them. She can’t travel or educate herself beyond the local library. She wants to explore Europe with her best friend Lucy but they’re both expected to marry and give up their friendship, Mina’s career, their names, and their bodies to men. She’s a young woman reaching for more than she’s been handed.
How did your role come about?
I had a Zoom call meeting with our director Sally Cookson who wanted to chat with me about the production and part. They said they were interested in casting a mixed-heritage actor from the North East of Scotland as Mina. We spoke about it being set there, as Bram Stoker is said to have written some of the book in Cruden Bay, inspired by Slain’s Castle and the jagged rocks. I then auditioned for them earlier this year, had a recall and got the part.
The production is reworked from a feminist perspective and explores issues of power, starring an all-female/non-binary ensemble cast. What were your first thoughts when reading the script?
I thought it was full of fire and energy. Especially from Mina. Her bravery really shone and I thought, ‘Wow, this role is going to stretch me.’ And and I was right. The story gives space for women and non-binary people to get angry. Mina’s rage is key to the plot and it’s important we see that on stage. She’s this unstoppable force. I thought it was bold and a big middle finger up to the patriarchy. Also, it’s full of humour, our writer Morna Pearson knows how to pack a punch as well as make you laugh and connect to these characters living 160 years ago.
How did you approach playing Mina and how did the production being all female and non-binary impact the way the story was told?
I watched films that centred on female rage. I researched what women’s rights were in 19th-century Scotland, what was taught about their brains and bodies; what the expectations were and what feminism looked like back then.
In Bram Stoker’s book and many adaptations, Dracula has always been a man (the predator), and women (the prey). Even the female vampires in the story are owned by him and the men don’t get turned. Having an all-female and non-binary cast and a majority female creative team meant that we were looking from the point of view of the typical ‘victims’. Rather than the usual image of the innocent Victorian lady being corrupted by this evil temptation. We thought, how do we give them more autonomy, and the chance to fight back? Most importantly to our version, what if they actively chose to take the potential freedom and power Dracula is offering rather than just falling victim to it?
Our story is about what happens to those who don’t fit in the boxes society has put us in. Van Helsing describes Mina as having ‘the brain of a man’ because she’s clever and assertive. Dr Seward thinks women will go insane if they don’t have children and locks Renfield in his asylum because they don’t fit ‘womanhood’.
Highs, lows, solutions …
High points were seeing how far I could stretch myself in the moments of intensity the character goes through. Also just testing my stamina for these energetic scenes repeatedly in rehearsals. Obstacles were mainly in devising Act 2, trying to weave each character’s storylines in a limited amount of time and essentially create half a show in a few weeks. We had a lot of discussion and improvisation. We always came back to the fact that this was Mina’s Reckoning, her story, whatever served that got to stay. The rest remains deep rehearsal lore…
GETTING TO KNOW …
What’s your current plan B?
I am often so busy I don’t think about it. If something happened and I never got to act again I’d take a well-deserved break. Then maybe pursue music or writing.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
Sad, how tough this industry can be. Especially for people who lack support, financially and emotionally. Mad, reading about Anne Greene in ‘Unwell Women.’ Glad, getting to come home to my partner after shows this week on tour.
What are you watching right now?
Castlevania – all the vampire content.
What are you reading right now?
‘Unwell Women’ by Elinor Cleghorn ‘A journey through medicine and myth in a man-made world’. So
many parallels to how the women are treated in Dracula.
What are you listening to right now?
I am Malala by Malala Yousafsai.
The last thing you saw on stage?
Aunty Donna at the Kings in Glasgow. Something light and silly to counterbalance my world of dark, gothic vampires at the moment.
What’s on your bucket list?
Jump out of a plane (with a parachute). Visit Japan. Experience a Darkness Retreat.
Where’s your happy place?
Yoga in my spare room with the plants and smell of lavender. Or cuddling on the couch with my love
watching WWE and eating good food.
Celebrate someone else …
My mum is a cake artist and creating some amazing edible art. A business in the making for years but now officially doing what she used to love back when she was still at school.
Celebrate yourself …
I’ve been nominated for several awards in my 5 years of work including The Herald Scottish Culture Awards as ‘One to Watch’ and the Scots Language Awards in the ‘Scots Performer of the Year’ category. I’ve been nominated both years in the UK Pantomime Awards for Best Principal Girl and Best Magical Being. I was also on The List Hot 100 last year, Saltire Society’s 40 Under 40 List and I’ve been inducted to CDN’s Hall of Fame.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
My Dad and his work ethic, always telling me ‘If I say I can, then I can’. My mum, listening to my own creative style and making my dreams a reality. All the black and brown actors working in this country before me, helping me see myself in stories and carving out a place for me to begin. I hope I am doing the same for future actors who look and sound like me to take up all that glorious space and say, I belong here too.
After Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning it’s Panto season and I’ll be back home in Aberdeen at His Majesty’s
Theatre with Sleeping Beauty. Then in March, I start rehearsals for Sunset Song adapted by Morna Young, playing the resilient Chris Guthrie.
Where can we find you?
@daniellekjam on Instagram
Where can we see you next?
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is touring Scotland until mid-October then we’ll be in Coventry and Liverpool for our final two weeks.
Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning is touring the UK from Saturday 2 September to Saturday 28 October 2023. Visit National Theatre Scotland for more.