Posts Tagged ‘Frankenstein’

Review – Frankenstein – Blackeyed Theater at Greenwich Playhouse

February 10, 2017

As a Goth and a fan of puppetry, I found the idea of an adaptation of Frankenstein done with puppets VERY exciting. The Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein suffered from the utterly too enjoyable body of the ballet dancer cast as its monster; seriously, who could have rejected that? And of course there was the question as to how it would compare to the National Theater’s Frankenstein; of course, the National had all the budget and access to top shelf acting talent, but could a small, scrappy company with a unique approach provide new enlightenment (and enjoyment)? I was confident that neither Edward Watson (Royal Ballet) nor Benedict Cumberbatch was necessary to make this show sing, so I took my seat with confidence.

The show starts (as does the novel) in the arctic, on a boat, where Frankenstein (Ben Warwick) is found wandering the ice. The initial set up of wooden beams and rope nicely conjures the feeling of a ship, especially one that’s stuck in the frozen ice. We’re able to see the sailors (and captain) showing kindness to the stranger they’ve found – a nice set up for the themes of compassion and humanity that appear later on.

The tiny cast of five then takes us on a whirlwind tour of Frankenstein’s life – his youth as an orphan (this confused me as he was not one in the book), his youth with and developing affection for his fellow orphan Elizabeth (Lara Cowin), his friendship with Henry Clerval (Max Gallagher), and then moves on at an astonishing pace to his university studies, where his obsession with the origin of life lead him to try to create it himself by reanimating the dead. This, of course, gets us to where I wanted to be, which was watching a show integrate puppetry into a narrative.

Blackeyed's Frankenstein by Alex Harvey-Brown

Blackeyed’s Frankenstein by Alex Harvey-Brown

The first sight of the monster was quite impressive, as it was most noticeably breathing and just … looking alive, and yet so clearly made. Frankenstein himself was going on about what a horror it was, but all I could think was … look! It’s quite convincingly alive! WHY AREN’T YOU PROUD OF IT??

This, of course, is the problem that leads to all of the issues of the second act, which, to not put too fine a point on it, that the monster becomes a murderer. As he tells it, it’s because “Daddy didn’t love me,” but I saw a more sinister thread: both Frankenstein and his monster showed a shocking self-centeredness and lack of empathy for others, which led to Frankenstein not really caring about the effect his actions ultimately had on others, or taking responsibility for them, and to the monster claiming he had justification for his viciousness. The two of them are equally damaged, and, again, this had some serious effects on me as an audience member, as i cared not a whit for either of them. It didn’t help that Frankenstein himself was overacting; I don’t know if it was opening night nerves or what, but I couldn’t find anything to hang my own sympathy around.

What was in its own way more frustrating, though, was the short shrift given to two of the most notable female characters in the novel – Elizabeth and the servant girl that the monster frames for murder. The servant, touchingly portrayed in the Royal Ballet version, gives a heartbreaking speech about her innocence which is completely missing from this adaptation – as well as Elizabeth talking about her desires to do something for herself (i.e. get an education). She dwindles to something less than two dimensional – she is simply a placeholder for the monster to have something to kill at the end of the play. And, worse, I neither felt bad for her nor for Frankenstein, as I felt he had no connection to her and thus had not lost anything.

Overall, this show told much of the novel and did it in a way I found beautiful to watch, but I had problems with the script that I was unable to overcome (although I found Max Gallagher charming and deliciously emotive in his many parts). Perhaps it will settle a bit, but this will not be the definitive Frankenstein for me.

(This review is for the opening night performance in London that took place on Tuesday, February 7th, 2017. It continues through Saturday the 11th then continues its tour: Malvern, Litchfield and Leeds are among its many stops.)

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Review – Frankenstein – National Theatre

February 16, 2011

As the bell rang next to me (making me jump out of my seat and scream) and the lights darkened for the “Cumberbach as the Doctor” version of Frankenstein at the National Theatre, I was fascinated by the big glowing circle at the middle of the stage. It seemed made of skin or parchment, and had the shadow of a human figure inside. It seemed … egg like, somehow. Oh my God, were we about to see Lady Gaga?

No such luck, I’m afraid, as when the skin finally tore, it was the scarred, naked body of Jonny Lee Miller that fell onto the stage. We were then treated to about ten minutes of watching him twitch and stumble while a curtain of incandescent lights overhead glowed and glared and flickered in a nice simulation of waves of electricity animating our monster’s frame. He was gaining control of his body, in preparation for heading into society and finding … well, just what would it be?

I’m afraid to say that despite the rather spectacular staging, Mr. Miller had falled, as if by accident, into a rather bad play. As a fan of Romantic literature, I really enjoyed the examination of basic questions such as, “Is man by nature good or evil?” “What is the influence of society on creating character?” “What does it mean to be human?” Most of these really exciting philosophical issues were undertaken by The Monster, who I think made a strong argument for being the most human character in the play.

Sadly, the rest of the characters fell flat, though The Blind Old Man (played by Karl Johnson) who teaches The Creature about philosophy was at least enjoyable in his scene. But Dad Frankenstein (George Harris) was positively wooden and Ella Smith (as “prostitute” and “maid”) was painfully bad (yes, darling, you’re projecting to the back of the Olivier, but I suspect the commuters at Waterloo might have been able to feel your performance as well). I’m going to blame the script for some of this, as Dr Frankenstein’s Fiancee (Naomie Harris) seemed emotionally believable … well, mostly … but was weighted by dreck dialogue.

With a sold-out run, I fear that most of the punters are actually coming to see Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, in his various turns as monster and mad scientist. If this is the case, I think you may enjoy his Creature, as it will ensure you get an eyeful of his kit and tackle. I found his Victor Frankenstein stiff and cartooney. It’s not a sympathetic character to play, I grant: in the end, he, with his desire to have the power of life and death and lack of concern for other people (living, dead, or both) comes off looking like the real monster. Still, mightn’t a better actor have pushed this role to show some sort of conflict that would have made him more interesting, if not sympathetic?

The clunky script is compensated somewhat by really powerful and at times deliciously stark staging, from the steampunk train to the Live! Fire! on stage to the glittering green gaze of polar sky at the end, as the lightbulbs somehow became curtains of ice and Northern Lights at the same time. And I have to say I admire a play that is so focused on the narrative and philosophy of the original novel. That said, we’re two centuries beyond the original, and purely symbolic characters that talk in morality soundbites are not the fashion either on stage or in literature. This could have been so much better and Nick Dear’s script is 80% to blame for this poor result. Without an interval, you’re stuck pushing through the very long two hours without a hope of relief; I have to say, I admired the two women who walked out the center aisle of the stalls, just in time to have Cumberbach point at them and say, “Look down there! Little men!” Rarely has an exit been so pointedly (if inadvertently) mocked by the great … and envied by me.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Monday, February 14th, 2011; the official opening day is the 22nd AND 23rd of February. The show runs through Sunday April 17th and is supposedly sold out for the run; however, there are always some returns so if you’re determined to see this, keep checking back daily for returns for the next few days. Note the women who walked out were allowed back IN to the auditorium … with drinks. Now this was MY Paradise Found.)