Frankenstein

The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 5th April, 2018

 

Driven by an insatiable ambition to be the first man to reach the North Pole, intrepid explorer Captain Robert Walton drags his weary and fatigued crew into the face of mortal danger as they suddenly find themselves trapped by towering mountains of surrounding sea ice. But as the first signs of a mutinous rebellion begin to emerge, the crew makes a shocking and unexpected discovery: an emaciated stranger, close to death in the frozen wastelands – who is this man, what is he doing so far from civilisation and can his horrifying account of how he got there really be true?

On the 200th anniversary of the novel’s first publication, Frankenstein the stage play brings all the gothic horror and gore of the classic Mary Shelley story onto the big stage in a luscious feast of thrilling terror.

As with the original novel, the stage play is delivered as a series of narratives: Captain Walton recounts his nautical adventures to his sister with Victor Frankenstein’s gruesome tale embedded within it – a story within a story.

Emotionally, this production seems to capture most of the key points of the original plot. Shane Zaza’s delivery as Victor Frankenstein exudes desperation – the desperation of a man who knows he’s made a terrible mistake and desperately just wants his problems to go away. Harry Atwell’s excellent portrayal of the monster elicits deep sympathy as the fiendish creature begins to grow ever more human, despite his acts of murderous violence. The net result of these two performances leads perfectly to the original and most pertinent moral of the story: who is really the evil monster?

 

Theatrical horror as a genre lags well behind the outputs of film and TV – both of which boast an unfair advantage in the shape of computer generated imagery that can be engineered to precisely attack the audience’s weaknesses. Whilst Frankenstein may not quite be able to compete with Hollywood blockbusters there are still several outstanding moments of genuinely thrilling terror – most notably the wedding night scene, where the audience is tricked into believing that every conceivable hiding place has been searched – only for the monster to emerge from the background in the most terrifying and truly shocking manner.

Frankenstein contains all the blood and gore that you might expect of any adaptation of this classic gothic horror story which, today, 200 years after it was first published, has become such a deeply-embedded concept pervading universally throughout so many aspects of human culture. But this production gets the balance perfectly right, it’s not just about the visual terror of witnessing gruesome experiments with body parts; Frankenstein also achieves the rarest of victories in the quest for true horror – it sets the mind racing on a frantic journey to rationalise the terror that can’t be seen, as much as the appalling horror that can.

 

Summary

Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure Whilst the set was a little lacking in excitement, the use of props was as gruesome as you might expect. Plunging the theatre into darkness at key points was genuinely disturbing and very effective. 4
Auditory pleasure Good use made of the height and circular nature of the performance space – the voice of the monster seemingly coming from all angles at certain points. 3
Architecture & Theme Excellent adaptation of an excellent story. Didn’t feel as if it strayed too far from the original concept, nor did it feel as if it slavishly adhered to the original. 5
Artistic delivery Outstanding acting performances by both leading actors. Each delivered characters that could be understood and even admired – despite the unpleasant nature of their respective actions. 5
Overall impact A fantastic example of theatrical horror, refreshing to see a well produced performance emerging from such a rarely-produced genre. 5
Final Score: 4.4

 

Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

 

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