Adapted for the stage by: Rona Munro
Director: Patricia Benecke
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
Does the world need another adaptation of Frankenstein? Is there anything new that can be added to the story? Any contemporary relevance that can be brought out of it or any element of it that has not been explored in previous versions? These are no doubt some of the questions that Rona Munro will have asked herself before taking on this project and deciding that, yes, there was something more that could be done with the story.
Unlike other versions that either leave the author out of the telling completely or overlay it with biographical metaphors that were never there, Munro gets inside Mary Shelley’s head at the time she was creating the story. As a result, the play becomes as much about the author understanding her own work, learning her craft and manipulating characters that don’t always want to go where she is taking them, as it does about the story of Frankenstein and his monster.
Beginning with a scene near the end of the chronological story, the action cuts to Shelley, forcefully steering her writing desk onto the centre of the stage placing at the heart of the adaptation. She writes words and questions them as she sets out her agenda to create something that will disturb readers and be her nightmare brought to life. The monster at the heart of the nightmare takes on his own life, stepping out from the role he was meant to play, to demand a fair hearing and receive fair treatment from his creator. The creator could be Frankenstein or Shelley herself, as her loyalties change and the intended hero of the novel begins to be shown in a different light.
As Frankenstein rejects his creation, the monster takes out his vengeance, not by killing Frankenstein but by destroying the things he holds dear, knowing that this will be a better, longer lasting, form of revenge for what his creator has done to him.
Throughout the play, Shelley questions her characters and works out their motivations and back stories as she develops the plot and takes the story beyond a simple horror and into a psychological battleground with its roots in societies treatment of the weak and the vulnerable.
The strong opening of the adaptation builds until the initial arrival of the monster midway through the first act, and then flatlines slightly as he disappears and we wait for the real confrontation with his creator to begin. This confrontation is played out in a second act that comes close to delivering on the initial promise of the production.
It suffers at times from placing Shelley too much at the heart of the story. Her explanations of what she is doing and why there can be no heroes end for Frankenstein, or happy ever after for the monster, add depth to the story and the portrayal of Shelley, but her interventions and observations also start to distract from the tension and terror within the Frankenstein story. Additionally, the monster’s rage is unvarying and drowns out the real and justified substance of his anger, again feeling like it is taking something away from the work that Shelley created.
The production gives a refreshing take on Shelley’s novel and the process of creating it, but in doing so doesn’t quite deliver the immediate visceral shock of the story.
Runs until 26 October 2019 then touring | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan