Writer: Mary Shelly
Adaptor: Rona Munro
Director: Patricia Benecke
Reviewer: Matthew Forrest
At this time of year, there is a tradition of ghost stories and a touch of the macabre in the air and here in Liverpool the Playhouse has bought into this big time with the staging of Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece Frankenstein.
Adapted for the stage by Rona Munro, this production blends two narratives together, the first being that of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein and his quest to play God by creating life from dead tissue. The second being that of the teenage Mary Shelley examining her literary struggle at bringing her creation to life, and just how far she’ll push the envelope to do so.
In Shelly (Eilidh Loan) like her creation Victor Frankenstein (Ben Castle Gibb), we see a germ of idea form and grow, obsession takes hold of the pair. Frankenstein works relentlessly and eventually succeeds at bringing the dead back to life. While, at the same time Shelly struggles with the weight of writing the ultimate horror story, one that the world has never seen before, made all the more important as it comes from a women very much in a ‘man’s world’ who is just 19 years of age.
There is a great deal to admire about Munro’s take on this classic, the decision to have the two narratives working parallel with each other works well, it’s bold and innovative and certainly gives an interesting spin on the familiar story.
Eilidh Loan is excellent as Shelly: the production’s heartbeat, striding around, playing god with her characters, she commands the stage throughout and very much like her creations she goes from creator to tormentor, Loan’s Shelly isn’t likeable, but she certainly draws you in. There is solid support from Ben Castle –Gibb the tortured scientist and Michael Moreland as the Monster, with Gibb, giving a more restrained, measured performance whilst Moreland’s monster is both tender and calculating as he at first searches for love and understanding, which soon turns to rage.
The production is also not without its flaws: this is small cast of seven with several cast members playing multiple roles, which is fine, however, more needs to be done to differentiate between characters. The costumes pretty much stay the same throughout, and in some cases the performances do too, which at times is distracting and takes you away from the action. In addition, more needs to be done to make you care about these characters, the only relationships that you are invested in is that of Shelly, Frankenstein, and the Monster, you have very little investment in the Frankenstein’s other relationships and as such don’t care when the body count rises.
Where this production does, excel, is its high production values: the set, the sound and lighting design all work together to create a cold, bleak atmospheric world, that draws shivers throughout. Trees looking like the human anatomy decorate the stage and are used to enable the cast to access of the stage and to great effect when foreshadowing impending doom.
This production is unique and fresh, it has its flaws but is ultimately an enjoyable production. One that not only looks at the themes of Shelly’s work, but develops them further for our current social/economic climate. It offers very little in the way of big chills and big scares, but it does breathe new life into one of literature’s most celebrated pieces of work.
Runs until 16 Nov 2019 | Image: Ken Wan