Review: Frankenstein

“I did not ask to be born, but once born, I will fight to live. All life is precious – even mine.”

The story of Frankenstein is one that has been told in many forms, each honing in on a different aspect of Shelley’s creation. In this particular adaption by Nick Dear, it is The Creature who takes centre stage with the play experienced from his perspective.

The derivation of many of the ideas and stimuli for this production evidently comes from the 2011 production at the National Theatre; it is clear Director David Bolwell has used this as his foundation as he conveys many of the same meanings with similar techniques. The Creature being at the heart of the piece has been taken by full force in this production and what is most interesting is that The Creature has been stripped of the idea of being a “monster.” Instead he is a being of very human identification that is born in front of the audience’s eyes; by not making him this so called “monster,” he is made relatable.

Alex Scott and Brendan Shanahan offer perhaps the most empathetic lighting that one can access in their design, the audience literally sees the world through The Creature’s eyes as the lights are synchronised with the opening and closing of his eyes. This ingenious effect results in the quick establishment of the audience’s affiliation with The Creature which is nurtured throughout the performance.

The bold choice to have no speech for a significant duration of the play’s opening might be risky if not for the outstanding performance from James Esler playing The Creature on this particular night. Through his captivating performance we are taken through the childlike evolution of this new being as he experiences the world. The empathy and connection resulting from observing this early development is something I have never before felt in a production at The Drama Barn. Any subsequent destructive or abominable acts he performs are controversially awarded with our sympathy due to the context they are bound to.

The antithesis between the mechanic and real human is cleverly exploited. This contrast is illustrated very visibly when demonstrating industrial workings. Movement Director Georgina Wilmer uses actors in physical theatre techniques such as the human wheel to convey this obvious contrast between the human and the mechanical. Furthermore, a soundscape of machinery is starkly contrasted against the gentle humanness of The Creature and the preconceived notion that “Frankenstein’s Monster” was a construction, a thing, is slowly broken down. It might seem unfathomable that, after experiencing some interpretations of “Frankenstein’s Monster” as an illiterate green beast, by the end of the play he is saying “I will teach you how to love.” The creative team have worked hard to escape this constraint and what we come to see is merely a vulnerable feeling being driven by our own ignorance to act in a predictable way.

Some of the performances of certain secondary characters did need further work. However, it can be hard to embody a personality or multiple personalities in quick succession, especially when multi-rolling. Furthermore, as is so often the case, first night nerves also come into play and I am confident that these performances will adapt and improve now that they have been exposed to an audience.

Alternating the parts of Frankenstein and The Creature each night makes for many successes. One of the palpable results is the visible unity between the two characters as one echoes the other with idiosyncrasies that Victor possess also being seen within The Creature. It is clear Bowman and Esler have worked hard to create this effect and it provokes many questions about the relationship between the two characters such as whether Frankenstein could be called his “father” and not just creator; again illustrating how the production carefully treads the line between cold, hard, mechanic construction and feelings and emotions that are so intrinsic to human nature.

Alternating the parts of Frankenstein and The Creature each night makes for many successes. One of the palpable results is the visible unity between the two characters as one echoes the other.

By making The Creature identifiable with oneself there becomes space for many realms of questioning about humanity and our treatment of it which thus makes the already timeless story, new, approachable and exciting. This is an absolute must see and perhaps even a must twice see in order to experience both embodiments of such well known, and now well loved, characters.

Frankenstein is showing at the Drama Barn from Thursday 9th June – Sunday 12th June. Tickets can be purchased on the door or via the YUSU website.

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