Undoubtedly one of the most celebrated tales in the world of British literature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has suffered injustice after green-skinned, square-headed injustice in the two hundred years since it was first penned. The vast majority of adaptations of this Gothic classic cast Frankenstein’s creature as a dim-witted and hostile being, intent on causing harm wherever it treads. Thankfully the latest production from The Watermill Theatre breathes new life into the creation, restoring the monster to its original astute, inquisitive and philosophical nature. Perhaps the most honest, understated and utterly captivating version of Frankenstein to have ever graced the stage, this is a play resplendent with poetic language and a refined appreciation for the human condition.
With aspirations of becoming the first scientist to create new life from the combined corpses of strangers, Victor Frankenstein finds himself on a dreary night of November stitching together the body of a man. When the creation opens its eyes and looks at him, Victor flees his workroom, overwhelmed and disgusted by the significance of his accomplishment. Alone, the creature travels under the cloak of night to the countryside where he begins to discover the natural world. When the creation discovers a family living nearby, he observes their behaviour, wishing to be a part of their lives. Yet when he introduces himself, they recoil in horror at the sight of his magnificent stature and patchwork features and he is cast out, alone again.
The Watermill Theatre’s presentation of Shelley’s iconic story is, quite simply, exquisite. It is moody, subdued and totally entrancing, drawing a severe distinction between human nature and social constructs. Key to the success of this production is its simplicity. With a stage of minimal props and a cast of two, the attention is given wholeheartedly to the story’s polar themes of family and ostracism. Tristan Bernays’ handling and adaptation of the original text is exemplary, threading the dialogue with the more well-known of Shelley’s passages and maintaining the narrative style throughout. Eleanor Rhodes’ direction is wonderfully balanced, sending the actors careening across the stage before coming in to land for moments of intense stillness and Tom Jackson Greaves’ attention to the creature’s movement spins together sluggish heaviness with balletic delicacy.
Tackling the dual role of Frankenstein and his creation, George Fletcher carries the play with fascinating stage presence. His energy and appreciation for the creature’s poetic vocabulary is a real feast for the senses yet his shining moment comes towards the beginning of the play as he navigates the creation’s first encounters with the outside world without uttering a single word. His childish expressions are infused with an almost Neanderthal loping gait and his brief communication with a member of the audience has each of us beaming with delight. Rowena Lennon supports Fletcher excellently in her multiple roles. Her calm demeanour is broken in brief spikes through the story, beautifully punctuating the more painful of the creature’s experiences and with her expert mirroring of Fletcher’s movements, she places atop the performance a shroud of almost dreamlike and fantastical atmosphere.
Subtle, simple and emotionally charged, this adaptation of Frankenstein affords us an outsider’s perspective of what it is to be human and our treatment of things we do not understand. This production is a real treat – The Watermill Theatre is a powerhouse in storytelling!
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Philip Tull
Frankenstein plays at Wiltons Music Hall until 18 March 2017