REVIEW: Frankenstein (Richmond Theatre) ★★★
November 20, 2019  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

Having recently very successfully adapted the epic Greek tale Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for the stage, Rona Munro has now taken the more famous Mary Shelley gothic story (written in 1818) Frankenstein to the stage, for an extensive UK tour. Her take on one of the original horror stories is imaginative and interesting as she examines both Shelley’s creative process in writing the story and re-examines the story of the monster’s creation and needs. It is written from three different points of views that of Shelley who narrates the story throughout, in Act 1 Dr Victor Frankenstein’s view and in Act 2 from the Monsters viewpoint. It makes for an intriguing two-hour play which follows the original book story line but does not quite work as effectively as her brilliant version of Captain Corelli.

Designer Becky Minto reflects on the duality of the storytelling by creating a strange meta-theatrical world in a pale pastel blue hue which combines Shelley’s library where she writes with the wildernesses and ice packs where Frankenstein pursues and is stalked by his monster. Tree branches become ladders to the second tier and there are only flashes of colour from red lining of clothes or her wooden writing desk. On the upper tier there are multiple door frames in which characters appear (or sit) and so some sight-lines are partially blocked. While it allows the frequent switches from Shelley talking to the audience to what is imagined in her creative writing, it fails to create the sense of real horror at any stage.

She promises a real horror story, but Director Patricia Benecke never quite ramps up the tension enough or presents the murders and killings in a scary way, to truly move the audience. The hanging is mimed, a murder takes place in silhouette and even the monster himself is presented as a very human person who in fact, we have huge sympathy for despite his behaviours. His plea’s for love, respect and an end to loneliness are quite touching. The contrast between Shelley’s young mind and her story which has engendered a whole genre of such tales since is too muted.

Nevertheless, the two professional actors at the centre of the story do very well. Eilidh Loan is Shelley, retelling how she created the story and almost directing the action on stage as well as engaging directly with the audience. Her eyes are constantly peering out into the auditorium, excitedly commenting on her story or reacting to her characters. Her naïve youthful appearance reminded us that Shelley was only 19 when she wrote this genre defining novel. Ben Castle Gibb is Frankenstein, the slightly deranged obsessive scientist who responds to the death of his mother (just as Shelley’s own mother died when she was young) by a desire to discover the secret of life and then releasing the onerous responsibility and consequences of creating life. He captures the growing desperation and conflict over what he has done and its tragic consequences and the feelings of loss.

Michael Moreland is the Monster battling with controlling his own physical strength and power and his desire to be civilised and accepted. Only the blind man welcomes into his home and he conveys the torment and loneliness of the character well without every being really scary. They are supported by a cast of four other performers who double up (with sometimes the slightest of costume changes) as family members and people they meet on their journey.

Some scenes work better than others, helped by the sharp lighting design by Grant Anderson and sound underscore by Simon Slater. The balcony works well as the bridge of ship stuck in the ice flow, the paper hut downstage creates an effective moment, and the dramatic fire at the end work within the design but a more traditional gothic horror feel would have contrasted with her writing process .

This is a classic novel and this adaption feels fresh and interesting and is well performed and is essential viewing for any GCSE students studying the book.

Reviewed by Nick Wayne

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