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Frankenstein (Susan Elkin reviews)

A new adaptation by Carl Miller, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. Performed by National Youth Theatre’s REP Company
society/company: National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT)
performance date: 31 Oct 2019
venue: Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD
Photo: Helen Maybanks

We all think we know the story (tragedy) of Victor Frankestein’s doomed, near-human monster. Here, Carl Miller’s innovative reworking presents it as a vibrant ensemble piece rooted in the arguably sinister reality of 21st century artificial intelligence. The result sits somewhere between disturbing speculative science fiction and choral Greek drama. Most of the cast are white clad, staring automata except when they emerge to play other small roles which every one of them does with conviction.

We start with a nod to Mary Wollstonecraft’s original framing device in which a distressed man with a story to tell is found on an arctic voyage. In this version Guy Clark as Wollstonecraft is leading a conference about artificial intelligence, clicking the cast and short scenes on an off as visual aids. His sister (Natalie Dunne as Bob – good) meanwhile is heading up an arctic voyage with a virtual crew. And in the second half, with a the aid of some neat tech, every single audience member – thanks to Imagination who worked with the cast and creatives on this – pops off to the Arctic too, complete with ice bergs and floes. Yes, it’s a show focused on virtual reality.

Director, Emily Gray makes nifty use of the very long traverse space at Southwark Play House along which the sixteen company members flow, run, crawl, walk and roll never forgetting that they have audience on either side of them so that we rarely lose eye contact or sound. The floor is marked out with wavy transmitter-like wires as is the pole framework above it. And there’s plenty of powerful, sometimes creepy, electronic sound from composer/MD Chris Ash’s sound designs.

Full marks to Ella Dacres as Victoria Frankestein, anguishing about her creation along with trying to live some kind of normal life. And her final scene is strong. It’s a pleasingly nuanced piece of work. Sarah Lusack, already showing herself a very versatile actor (see my review of Great Expectations last week), finds an intelligent, rather attractive stillness in the otherworldly monster.

A word of praise too for Billy Hinchcliff whose prison scene – after the loss of the woman his character loves – is painfully powerful. It’s totally naturalistic acting.

This take on Frankenstein is of the moment, nimble and very clever – another success for this talented young company mounting a three play, central London rep season after training through the summer with NYT.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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