King's Theatre Edinburgh (venue)
21 October 2019 (released)
22 October 2019
This new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s undisputable Gothic masterpiece bears all the hallmarks of an overtly p/c amateur production, with no sense for the period it is set in and with accents all over the place. Things are not helped by a somewhat flawed set-design which prevents audiences seated at the far left to actually see what’s going on at times!
Admittedly, the idea of placing an 18-year old Mary Shelley amidst the ‘action’ of her own literary creation is a bold and original one and we see Mary (Eilidh Loan) battling her own demons. She also battles with her literary creation and the fact that forward thinking young women (then as now) are almost ostracised for daring to break away from conformity and from what was expected of them – back in Mary’s day much more so than nowadays. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley the rebel – perhaps this is the reason why, in this latest version, we see her clad in a long black leather coat and boots to match – looking more like a neo-gothic Punkette than an 18th century intellectual writer. The action begins when two seamen discover a strange figure running along the North Pole ice, and moments later another figure is found unconscious and brought aboard. He turns out to be scientist Victor Frankenstein (Ben Castle Gibb) and through him – and Mary’s interludes – we are told the saga of how Mary created Frankenstein and Victor created his ‘Creature’ (and lost almost all of his loved ones in the process) in flashback.
Sounds good so far but unfortunately the ingredients don’t make for a winning formula. Both Eilidh Loan and Ben Castle Gibb give their professional stage debut as Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein, and the fact that both actors are still relatively inexperienced shows. Personally I doubt very much that a thinker such as Mary Shelley spent her creative process pacing up and down her room shouting at the world and shouting at herself in a constantly frenzied state of mind (a generous dose of laudanum would have kept creative tempers at bay!). As for the part of Victor Frankenstein, he too is supposed to be a tormented soul and such a fragile state of mind requires multi-layered emotional responses and pathos… all of which we get precious little here. As for Frankenstein’s future bride-to-be, Elizabeth, we find ourselves confronted with Natali McCleary whose accent flits between Scots and what have you, never mind her almost Mohican-style pleaded dreadlocks hairdo - which would suggest that purely from a visual viewpoint she would be better off in Mad Max: Fury Road than in this production.
Sarah MacGillivray has the unthankful parts of ‘Mother’ and ‘Justine’ (nanny to Victor’s little brother William) as both characters find an untimely death in Part 1.
Both Greg Powrie (as Father/Master and Waldman) and Thierry Mabonga (as Walton and Victor’s friend Henry Clerval) stand on strong enough feet to hold their own.
Ironically perhaps, the true star of this production is Michael Morland as ‘The Creature’… I say ironically because initially the ‘Monster’ – stitched together from various body parts and brought to life by means of electric jolts - is supposed to be semi-literate (and that’s an understatement) whereas here, not only is he the most accomplished actor of them all but this Creature certainly has a way with words!
Becky Minto’s monochrome set and costumes (all frosty white and black) are reminiscent of early silent horror films and while the set – at first sight at least – seems a clever construction of multi-purpose rooms and platforms it’s also restrictive. For example, when the Creature comes to live (an upside-down tree branch suggests human arteries) and when Justine is executed for a crime she didn’t commit… these vital pieces of action take place at the far back of the stage with protruding walls to either side obstructing a full view for those seated to the left.
What Mary Shelley would make of this well-meant production (courtesy of Selladoor, Perth Theatre, The Belgrade Theatre and Matthew Townshend Productions) – who can say?
FRANKENSTEIN runs until Sat. 26th Oct (www.capitaltheatres.com)
(Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken-Wan)