Thursday, March 17, 2011

'Frankenstein' by Nick Dear based on the novel by Mary Shelley

17 March 2011

On Saturday we were at the National Theatre in London to see ‘Frankenstein’ – a new play by Nick Dear based on the novel by Mary Shelley and directed by Danny Boyle. This certainly felt like a major theatrical event – a complete sell-out with a real buzz in the foyer and high expectations all round (we were feeling very smug having booked our tickets months ago!). Inevitably it was always going to be difficult for the show to live up to all the hype but it was very impressive. The set, lighting and effects on the massive revolving stage in the Olivier Theatre were amazing and there were some truly jaw-dropping moments. The acting was excellent: we saw Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein (the two actors are alternating the parts). Benedict Cumberbatch’s physical performance, particularly in the opening scene where The Creature comes to terms with his new body and gains control of his limbs, was amazing. The care given to making this opening realistic and believable did, however, make it quite a slow start and it felt like the show only really got going when Jonny Lee Miller’s Frankenstein became involved. I thought he very effectively made Victor Frankenstein obsessive and unfeeling while also making us sympathise with his impossible moral dilemma. The decision to run for two hours without an interval seemed odd – I think the play could have taken a break without too much detriment. Some of the set-piece scenes – Frankenstein confronting The Creature on the mountain-top, the Frankensteins’ bedroom on their wedding night etc – were thrillingly handled. And Naomi Harries played Elizabeth as intelligent and brave – no hysterical screaming here. The fact that the play was fairly faithful to the original novel, rather than following the melodramatic horror of the Frankenstein films, strangely seemed a bit of a missed opportunity given the scale of the production which could have produced something spectacularly scary. It also suffered from the fact that, although Mary Shelley came up with a brilliant concept, her novel isn’t the greatest narrative. The plot is very episodic and Frankenstein does seem to spend half the novel being pursued across Europe by The Creature and the other half pursuing The Creature. But it was a stunning theatrical experience – and we could hear every word!

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