DramaReviewSouth East

Frankenstein – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Writer: Rona Munro

Director: Patricia Benecke

Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree

Numerous adaptations of Mary Shelley’s iconic story exist. What Rona Munro has done in this latest realisation is to pit 19-year-old author and characters together and to allow Shelley to commentate on her horror story as it evolves. In effect, the production restores Shelley’s authority and narrative from the Hollywood movies that have twisted her original theme of monster versus creator.

By all accounts, Shelley was an extraordinary woman of her time: independent and courageous and with her own unique voice. Eilidh Loan, as Shelley, certainly has an aura of strength and feistiness in her portrayal. In her opening soliloquy she talks directly to the audience and puppets her characters through their opening scene. The effect is slightly reminiscent of recent sitcom characters talking to camera and her comments and reactions to her ideas unfolding is often as cynical. Her costume immediately sets her apart from the stylised and sensitive dress given to her characters but, like the delivery, it places her in a more modern world and feels too far-removed from the plot she is creating to be entirely legitimate.

The man-made monster, played by Michael Moreland, is neither physically ugly or imposing in stature, but an awkward stance and subtle voice change adds to his sense of alienation and lack of understanding of the world in which he finds himself. He is also the only character who directly interacts with Shelley which allows the audience to clearly see her shift from repulsion and fear to a sympathetic viewpoint that allows the monster’s side of the story to be told.

Ben Castle Gibb brings a convincing range of emotion to the young and ambitious scientist, Frankenstein, from total absorption in his work to a hysteria of madness associated with one who cannot come to terms with the horrific consequences of what he has created. Natali McCleary as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s cousin and later wife, brings a careful balance of strength and sensitivity as she seeks to understand the man she loves.

Rona Munro’s script is clever, not only in its careful allocation of characters among a cast of only seven actors, but also in its ability to blend the emotions of ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’: the juxtaposition of Shelley’s literary breakthrough with Frankenstein’s eureka moment in his laboratory is particularly well-crafted. Patricia Benecke’s direction allows the dialogue and storyline to flow at a fast pace and with a well-judged sense of energy throughout.

It is undoubtedly a good story and it does unsettle, particularly through its use of jarring soundscape and flash lighting that become increasingly disconcerting as the monster seeks his revenge on his creator. It doesn’t, however, terrify and it probably won’t haunt any dreams but it is a unique and worthwhile portrayal of a story that will certainly continue to inspire and intrigue generations to come.

Runs until 28 September 2019 and continues to tour | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

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Gothic masterpiece reimagined

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