Writer: Ciaran McConville
Director: Lucy Morrell
There seems to be a resurgence of interest in both Mary Shelley and her debut novel Frankenstein of late. It may have been sparked by the 1818 novel’s recent bicentenary, but we currently have a touring adaptation by Rona Munro, Mary turned up as a guest character in a recent episode of Doctor Who, and the BBC’s hugely popular history podcast You’re Dead to Me has devoted a recent episode to the author whose personal life was just as Gothic as the genre her novel helped to define.
Throw into that mix The Creature, a modern day adaptation originally created for the Rose Theatre’s youth company for the Oldenburg Theatre Festival in 2019. Remounted on the Rose’s own stage, it provides a three-day expo for the talents of the youth theatre’s alumni.
Writer Ciaran McConville, who so adeptly adapted The Snow Queen for the Rose’s 2019 Christmas show, takes on the duty of updating Shelley’s horror fable for the modern age. His version sees Eleanor Clark, whose character is only ever referred to as ‘the Creator’, pursue a series of experiments that she sees as the next possible step of human evolution. In doing so, she risks the love of her partner Elizabeth (Daisy Tucker), and misses out on the life events of her sister, Flic (Katherine Liley).
McConville’s dialogue is largely modern, with rich veins of the language of Shelley’s Georgian gothic original. It makes for a knowing, arch script which director Lucy Morrell mirrors in her production. Philip Connolly’s set design, dominated by a part-organic, part-electronic tree, takes its inspiration from one of McConville’s recurring themes, a theory of how trees communicate with each other via their roots, providing each other strength and sustenance.
The implication throughout is that this is an example humans should emulate rather than ignore. Certainly, when Anna Pryce’s Creature finally emerges – existing throughout most of the first act as an encroaching threat, only being fully revealed at Act I’s (surprisingly underpowered) conclusion – it is the connections she makes (in this case, with a family of refugees) that strengthens and, yes, humanises her.
Tensions are increased by the story being largely told in flashback, as Clark’s Creator tries to convince Francis Redfern’s ship’s captain that the Creature is an existential threat. Narration duties are also shared by the ensemble cast who, when not playing specific roles, don masks for a Greek chorus of doubts, temptations and admonitions.
There is a nihilistic streak running through McConville’s adaptation, a sense that if the Creature really is the cause of the destruction of mankind, that might not be a wholly bad thing. A final act rug-pull, meanwhile, causes one to doubt the veracity of what has gone before in the best, most satisfying ways.
As a production which see the Rose youth theatre’s alumni take their first steps into professional acting careers, The Creature creates an impressive calling card. That it is also a satisfying piece of science-fiction theatre is a bonus.
Reviewed on 28 February 2020.