The UK’s National Theatre in London has a new production: Frankenstein. It’s based on Mary Shelley’s book, and sticks more closely to the themes of the original work than Hollywood’s many films (wonderful though some of them are).
The NT’s production has garnered rave reviews – it’s currently the hottest theatre ticket in town, and all performances are sold out. If you want to see it, then probably your best bet is to see one of the live relays of a performance to a cinema near you.
That’s precisely what I did last night. I drove to Ede (45 minutes away) and watched yesterday’s performance of Frankenstein in the Olivier Theatre in London relayed live to a screen in Cinemec. I was worried whether this would work as an experience, but I needn’t have feared. The sound and vision were top-notch, and the use of multiple cameras allowed us to catch things that would be lost if you were sitting at the back of the Olivier. Yes, OK, it’s not like actually being there, but it is a very acceptable substitute, and for those of us who don’t live in London, it’s a great way to see the NT’s productions.
The production and performance were every bit as good as the reviews are saying. Stunningly mounted, using the facilities of the Olivier stage with its giant revolve and lifts to great effect. During the two hour performance (no interval), the stage was transformed into a woodland, the lake at Geneva, the interiors of an elegant country house and a Scottish croft, and the Arctic wasteland. We saw a locomotive roar onto stage and stop at the footlights, and the destruction of a farmhouse by fire.
The cast do not let all this theatre magic overwhelm them. The two central performances of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein are brilliantly handled by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Last night I saw the Creature played by Cumberbatch, and Frankenstein played by Miller. They switch roles on successive nights.
The rest of the cast are strong as well. I particularly liked Karl Johnson as the blind De Lacey, Naomie Harris as Elizabeth, Victor’s fiancée, and Ella Smith as Clarice, Elizabeth’s maid. There are moments of broad comedy, notably between the Scottish crofter Rab and his uncle, and of course there are moments of high drama and tragedy. But underpinning the whole play is the exploration of the theme of what it means to be human. I think it’s safe to say that the Creature is more sympathetic than Victor, and he gives voice to both the pain and the glory of humanity. Victor seems to be the one who is less than human – a sociopath who lives only for seizing the secrets of life from Nature. And the one person who is portrayed as a fully rounded human being is Elizabeth, and she is ultimately betrayed by Victor and destroyed by Victor’s creation.
All in all, this was a wonderful experience. I’m going again next week, this time to see Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Frankenstein, and I’ll have downloaded the digital programme beforehand…