Theatre Review: Frankenstein

THE National Theatre’s stage adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN has been the most anticipated opening for months. All the gothic horror of the romantic age is there, but does the production live up to expectations? Find out…

THIS NEW play by Nick Dear adapting Mary Shelley’s tale of gothic horror for the stage has been the most anticipated theatre opening for months.

Much of the excitement stemmed from unusual casting that sees the leading men swap roles each night - with Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein one night before alternating the next and then back again. Danny Boyle also directs, hot on the heels of hit films 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire, to complete an all-star line-up.

A naked and blood covered Cumberbatch bursts onto stage from a pod-like womb as The Creature, in the 10minute long opening birth scene I saw - a twitching ultra-flexed, over-tensed, convulsive homage to deformed physicality. It is uncomfortable to watch - one couple walked out!

From birth to tentative first steps, The Creature goes on to discover the sun, food, music and education, but when he is rejected all hell breaks loose and arson, child murder, body snatching and the terrors of science are unleashed as The Creature and his creator Victor Frankenstein become locked in a battle of wills, a nihilistic walk of hatred to the ends of the earth.

Cumberbatch is intense as The Creature and Lee Miller every bit the dashing egotist scientist and both are compelling, although the roles would be more naturally cast the other way around. The set and Boyle’s direction are full of the visual theatrics of gothic fantasy. The horrifying potential of science is realised most intensely as a steam train, a mass of metal and limbs merged into one almighty machine, fires onto the stage. And a beautiful shard of lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling sends out schisms of light, a dagger of blinding fluorescence warning of the potential of electricity.

Frankenstein is not always easy to watch. The script is, at times, worthy and sluggish. It footnotes the great ideas of the romantic age – reason and enlightenment, the sublime and sentimentality - without cohesively working them into the drama. But it doesn’t really matter as the acting, set and direction are all thrilling, sparking with terrifying force.

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* Showing at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre, in the South Bank, SE1, until Sunday, April 17.