Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Frankenstein, Ensemble Theatre

Nick Dear's adaptation of Mary Shelly's classic begins with the creature's birth - experienced from the perspective of the newborn, stumbling, shambling into a world that he's an outcast in. It's an arresting point to begin the story, and a fine introduction to Lee Jones' performance as the un-named creature - a lonely, confused, desperate figure who is assimilating everything for the first time.

And this is an unusually close adaptation of Mary Shelly's work, echoing her themes of the moral responsibility of a creator to his creation (including a lot of literary allusions to John Milton's "Paradise Lost").  This isn't the mute or mumbling figure Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee provided - he only returns to take his revenge after he's been educated enough to know just how far he's been wronged. It trims extensively (Shelly's framing device is gone, as is roughly the first hundred pages of the book), but intelligently, focusing on getting to the meat of the material.

There's some other great performances in here that should be acknowledged - Michael Ross as the blind man  who takes the creature in and gives him his first demonstrations of kindness and education, Katie Fitchett as Elizabeth, Doctor Frankenstein's fiance and the one person who gets to argue with both the Doctor and the Creature about the destructive nature of their mutual obsessions (her observation that "if you wanted to create life, maybe you could have got me pregnant" cuts right to the heart of the matter). Andrew Henry's Victor Frankenstein is less successful - though the script is somewhat loaded against him, all our sympathies are going to be with the newborn outcast rather than the intellectual who disowns responsibility - still, Henry gives us a Doctor Frankenstein who is more a simpering wimp than a magnificently arrogant bastard.

Kilmurray's staging is mostly pretty good (though it looses flow a little in one or two scene transitions) - the simple design highlights the performances and the text. The live musical accompaniment (performed by Heather Stratfold, composed by Elena Kats-Chermin) keeps the mood tense and engaging throughout.

I was kinda expecting to love this, but instead this fell into the "good, but not great"... I think unfortunately due to the uneven nature of the sparring partners - Jones clearly dominates the story at every turn, meaning the drama is somewhat diminished. But this is still an effective evening in the theatre, telling a classic story in modern style.

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