Backeyed Theatre Ltd
Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park, Bracknell and touring
The stage is smoky, dark and brooding occasionally lightening up for a contrasting conventional indoor scene. Characters – especially Ben Warwick who gives a glittering performance as anguished Victor Frankenstein – are spotlighted so that they emerge from the gothic gloom. The atmosphere, highlighted by side stage music including a set of timpani and skilful actor musos, is disconcertingly haunting and mysterious.
I’ve seen many adaptations of Mary Shelley’s post Enlightenment 1818 gothic horror story over the years, including a musical one and another which recast the characters of Mary, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Byron within the action. John Ginman’s two hour version for Blackeyed Theatre eschews such flights of fancy and tells the story in a pretty uncompromising way including the flashback framing device which comes with a whiff of Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner, published twenty years earlier.
An accomplished ensemble cast of five, imaginatively directed by Elio Giuralarocca, work on, round and though a set consisting of an angular heap of planks – ships masts, windows, laboratory table and so on. Sometimes the lighting shadows these, cage-like high above the action.
Lara Cowin’s Elizabeth is suitably fragrant in contrast to everything else which is going on. Max Gallagher delights as the very decent Henry (and does a lovely cameo of an elderly blind musician). Ashley Sean-Cook is strong as Robert Walton, the ship’s captain through whose eyes the story unfolds.
The ensemble work is seamless and all actors are continuously busy. The real star of the show, however, is Yvonne Stone’s monster puppet. Slightly larger than life, it is formed of grey ropes to represent its massive muscular strength. The moving head is sinister but vulnerable enough to evoke pity. Three actors operate it and Louis Labovitch gives it a penetrating, slightly other-worldly voice. And it because there are three people behind it they form a chorus which enable it to breathe, pant and sigh. Life is indeed created on stage – and not just by Victor Frankenstein.
All in all, then it’s a fine show. It has a huge nationwide tour booked well into 2017 so lots of people will be able to see it. And I especially recommend it to A level students of the novel. It’s a tale resonant with topical issues too. The monster is hated and feared mostly because of his appearance. He turns to evil actions only as a form of what we might now call “attention seeking” in his lonely despair and rejection. Sound familiar? Frankenstein is, among many other things, a plea for inclusivity and diversity and this version really brings that out.