Monster Show – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Creator: Ocean Hester-Stefan Chillingworth

Monster Show has a very strange premise. The audience is treated to James Whale’s 1931 classic Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. The film is, however, screened mute and the job of providing the soundtrack is performed by a figure in a bulky Frankenstein’s Monster costume.

This monster, played by Ocean Hester-Stefan Chillingworth, gamely tries to reproduce each line of dialogue, key moments of the score, special sound effects and even the Foley of footsteps and wind-blowing. It’s a huge feat of memory and timing. Chillingworth never faces the screen, yet many sounds and lines are in sync. They have a particular skill at performing the sounds of Frankenstein’s laboratory and the machines within. Crowd scenes prove a little more troublesome, and there are points where many of the characters speak in a very peculiar accent, possibly in an attempt to ape a classic ‘Hollywood’ sound.

The monster is not static, they lope around some houseplants, spin a table like a windmill and hold branches as if they were flaming torches. The monster also takes off layers between certain breaks; first the jacket, then the shirt and shoulder pads and, at the very end, the head, revealing Chillingworth.

It’s certainly one of the most unique theatrical entertainments available. There’s a giddy, bonkers feeling in the theatre, causing the audience to laugh at themselves as much as what they are seeing. This frisson sweeps the room when Frankenstein declares, “I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.” Luckily, both film and performance mean the audience doesn’t discover what eternity is.

It’s difficult to see what all this is supposed to mean. The flyer claims that this performance is ‘a trans act purging outdated narratives, championing radical bodies and being many things at once.’ It’s clear how it’s about being many things at once. Chillingworth performs all characters and things represented on screen. As for championing radical bodies, Chillingworth is a non-binary trans performer and has called theirs a ‘created body’, like Frankenstein’s Monster. Monstrousness aside (and there are many transpeople at the moment who feel the village is pursuing them with flaming torches) a trans body tells a person’s individual story but Frankenstein’s Monster is an anonymous assemblage of odds and ends, the monster has no coherent story. It’s also hard to see how Monster Show purges outdated narratives by sticking faithfully to a ninety-year-old script.

Regardless of possible themes and motive, Monster Show is a successful theatrical experience. Part of this is because the 1931 film still packs a punch, with the audience gasping at the scene with the little girl by the lake. Part of this is also because of the skill that Chillingworth displays, both vocally and physically, which detaches the audience from the film and makes it something different.

Runs until 3 November 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

An intriguing assemblage of odd parts.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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