Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Reviewer: Pete Benson

Writer: Mary Shelley

Adaptor: Rona Munro

Director: Patricia Benecke

At the centre of this faithful retelling of the Frankenstein story is the author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, portrayed by Eilidh Loan. Shelley is portrayed much like a spider at the centre of a web as she weaves her tale and manipulates her characters. At times she literally pulls or holds them by a thread as she decides their fate. Mary tells the story and, to some extent, her own psychological story as she writes it. At the same time, she narrates and gives commentary connecting directly with the audience. She is like a living embodiment of Key Notes. The writer, Rona Munro, uses multiple tricks and stylistic set-pieces to have Shelley interact with her fictional characters in different imaginative ways all of which are very satisfying and rarely repeated.

Loan invests great energy in her performance as she ranges from frenetic pace to stillness. And while at times her words tumble out, she is always clear. Hers is a very engaging performance that more than holds the production together.

The story unfolds on an intriguing set designed by Becky Minto. It is plain white with two levels and multiple spaces in which characters can appear and disappear. Scenes are lit with great effect by designer Grant Anderson. It is amazing how such a seemingly utilitarian set can convincingly be mountains, an ice flow, forest, laboratory and host of other locations predominantly lit with stark white light, often heavily backlit with smoke beams radiating through the set’s window like portals. The mountains are particularly effective, giving the disorientating feeling of a whiteout.

Scene changes and violence are effectively punctuated with a whole lexicon of cinematic stings created by Simon Slater. Slater’s soundscape is integral to the storytelling: it raises the tension and induces fear in the audience. A deafening lightning storm that ripples across the stage is particularly evocative of the gothic world we are in

The narrative structure of the play echoes that of the novel. The story is introduced by a sea captain, establishing a mystery. Victor Frankenstein takes up the story and then the creature he’s created gives its perspective on events. Frankenstein, played by Ben Castle, completes the tale as he slips into madness, refusing rescue from the sailors who initially found him stranded. Gibb handles the character well although he is more engaging as the frightened, desperate man at the end than he is as the young student starting out.

The Creature, played by Michael Moreland, has almost no visual indication of the repulsive patchwork of body parts that he is made from. Moreland gives the creature a slight upright rocking stiffness and there is a little sound effect on the otherwise normal voice. None the less the portrayal of the creature works as the show has a devised representational style about it. Much of the creature’s psychology is painted in by Shelley as she aides him in his inarticulate attempt to tell his story.

The four other actors from the ensemble play all the other characters who are mostly created with very broad brush strokes. This is a little unsatisfying at times. Occasionally, it’s difficult to hear everything spoken by the ensemble – a combination of poor projection and some ill-balanced talking over key lines. The cast is well choreographed by director Patricia Benecke so that scenes flow around the set appearing seamlessly in a multiplicity of locations. The production has pace and Loan’s Shelley gives it fire too, which is apt as it will all literally resolve in fire.

This is a good solid telling of the Frankenstein story perfect for students studying the novel.

Runs until 7 March 2020

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One Comment

  1. Confusion compounded by poor projection and sound deficits. Apart from the opening scene , all actors delivered their lines in a completely unimaginative, frenetic fashion. When Shelley spoke her line “ it is nearly over”, the audience gave corporate sigh of relief followed by a mutual chuckle of unanimous recognition. At times, we could not hear the actors and were often left vaguely bemused by their apparently pointless need to climb up or down the set:their movements did not reflect dialogue. We expected Frankenstein’s monster to burst into a song from Joseph at any moment, given his garb and stance. A great comedy production whose advertising needs to mirror its effects. This production needs to be put out of its misery.

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