Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most popular and inventive pieces of Gothic fiction ever to be written. It has inspired countless cinematic adaptations, all of which have contributed generously to the now horrifically iconic image of Frankenstein’s creation. However, few film makers and playwrights have bothered to stray away from that almost cliché image of the voiceless monster who mindlessly destructs and devours everything in his path. In this stage adaptation, written by Nick Dear and directed by Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire director, Danny Boyle, the creature is finally given a voice, and the effect is one that is both, unique and fascinating.
In this National Theatre production, we follow the creature over three years – from his painfully neglected ‘birth’, to his rapidly formative year of learning, and his fateful return to eccentric creator, Victor Frankenstein, whom he begs to create a similarly hideous-looking bride, for him to quell his raging loneliness. The play is incredibly empathetic to the creature, who is portrayed as a lost, child-like thing, who craves to be loved and understood, but in his frustration at the injustice thrust upon him, acts in terrifyingly monstrous and callous ways. While his creator is depicted as a standoffish genius, who is swept away by his work and his ability to ‘play god’ and bring beings to life.
The roles of Victor and the creature were played on alternate nights of the original run in 2011, by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee-Miller. The actors play both of the roles superbly – each bringing a distinctive dynamic to their performances. The role of the creature in particular, aided by the grotesquely realistic make-up, is especially interesting to watch. In Miller’s performance, we see an infantile, more animated quality to the creature, in which his anger and frustration is emphasised with vigour. While Cumberbatch’s take is much more cautious and carefully constructed to illustrate the creature’s capacity for learning and emotion, which makes his creature feel infinitely more alive. And whilst, neither actor had firmly formulated their individual portrayals of fellow fictional great Sherlock Holmes during the play, (Cumberbatch’s Holmes had by this time only had one series and Miller had not yet been approached to play the lead in Elementary), for fans of either show elements of the detective can be felt in both of their performances as Victor, who like Sherlock, is arrogantly clever and a little emotionally inept.
Technically, the production is spectacular; with a beautiful cornucopia of golden light shrouding the stage, as well as explosive set pieces that in no doubt inspired Boyle’s later work in the electrifying Industrial sequence of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games. The birthing cocoon, in which the creature bursts out at the beginning of the play, is also incredibly intriguing to witness, and the music throughout is sensationally thrilling. It must also be said, that while the story is in many places, rather macabre and dramatic, there are some amusing moments and the supporting cast, which includes Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Victor’s wife, Elizabeth, are also wonderful.
With outstanding Olivier-award winning performances from both Cumberbatch and Miller, this stunning take on the classic novel, is both breathtakingly exciting and incredibly engaging, as it explores the relationship between creature and creator in an unforgettable new light.