Writer: Mary Shelly
Adaptor: Isabel Dixon
Director: Katherine Timms
Reviewer: Sophia Moss
It’s a dark, stormy night and Elizabeth Frankenstein (Danielle Winter) is chanting in Latin as she attempts to bring her creature, made from three dead bodies to life. It succeeds and the creature shrieks in agony, writhing around like something out of The Exorcist, but Elizabeth is terrified and runs away, leaving the creature to fend for herself. This female-led version of Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein is creative, energetic and, despite changing the gender of the lead characters, faithful to the original.
Elizabeth Frankenstein, adopted by uncle Victor Frankenstein and his wife as a baby, is given a scientific education often reserved for boys in 18th century Geneva. She is fascinated by anatomy and, after the untimely death of her adoptive mother and father becomes obsessed with creating life. It is never clear exactly what the experiment involves; while the original Frankenstein’s monster was the result of science gone wrong, Elizabeth appears to be using witchcraft to summon a demon as she chants in Latin before administering a single zap of lighting.
This is a problem because it makes Elizabeth’s automatic rejection of The Creature (Elizabeth Shenk) less believable. The creation process is very sinister and demonic, so it seems strange when Elizabeth is surprised her creature is … well, a creature. The play follows Mary Shelly’s original closely and the characters reactions are the same in both versions, but the witchcraft element stops it ringing true here because it’s unclear exactly what Elizabeth was originally expecting or what she hoped to achieve. Some dialogue explaining this could have helped. This show contains many blood-curdling screams, which is a little painful when you consider how close the audience are to the actors.
The staging area contains a wooden chair, two boxes, a lantern and an ornate gun. It is a simple set, but it looks the part and the cast makes good use of levels (at one point the creature is crouched right behind some of the audience as if about to leap). The faceless puppets – imagine a walking Victorian puppet child without a face – are a good mixture of functional and creepy.
Frankenstein includes very effective sound effects (the crunch of breaking bones as Elizabeth creates her monster are realistically wince-inducing) and music is well chosen if a little overdone. Costumes and makeup are another highlight; the female ensemble with pale faces, dark sunken eyes and, black lipstick are also dressed in white corsets and breaches. They wouldn’t look out of place in a zombie film, which matches the shows aesthetic.
The Creature’s costume of tattered, dirty shirt and skirt, mangled face and a huge black bruise on her leg is perfect. Her take on the creature, performed as a manic animalistic child, works well. She is a very physical actress and spends most of her time squatting, leaping and rolling around the space, and her animal-like movements are spot on. Her use of stuttering, broken language – the creature is still new and learning to speak – is also believable. She manages to make the creature scary but sympathetic, which is the whole point of the character. Charlotte Peak (Justine) has a great voice and adds a sad, ethereal element to the story. It is a little annoying that they keep referring to The Captain (Sarah Lawrie) as ‘he’ in the beginning of this play – if Frankenstein can be female why can’t the captain – but she gives a strong performance as the elderly English professor and blind mother.
The creative brains behind Frankenstein know the text well and wanted to stick as closely as possible to the original plot while also showing that women can be mad scientists too. The sound, design and acting in this show is strong, but the characters dubious motivations let down an otherwise strong concept.
Runs until 10th March | Image: Sam Elwin Photography