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Armchair Reviewers Club - Round up of Week 5 (Frankenstein)

Welcome back to another week of Armchair Reviewers Club and thank you for all of your responses this week. It was really interesting to see how a classic story can be revitalised to still be poignant in today’s world.

Frankenstein is a classic horror story written in 1918 by Mary Shelly, adapted by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller in alternating roles of The Creature and Doctor Frankenstein, and I think it was the performances of the two principal roles that really resonated with our reviewers:

‘This was no ordinary Joe Wicks workout! Cumberbatch’s ability to push his entire being to writhe and twist, expressing the creature’s burgeoning spirit and intellect, was breath-taking. This creature, with its pain and confusions, held my attention not just with but despite all the grand pyrotechnics that Danny Boyle’s theatre threw at it.’
Alison via Email

‘Benedict’s performance was thoroughly engaging. From his ‘birth’ we observe 15 minutes of this painful and desperate ballet, as this adult brain discovers how his body works It was painful, disturbing and yet had an unusual beauty to it.’
Graeme via Email

‘The dual roles is a really interesting convention to have, highlighting the characters’ connection and the irony of how the story leads to slave becoming master and vice versa.’
Elizabeth via Email

It would have been easy for this production to fall under the tropes and horror guise as so many adaptations of the Mary Shelly novel have done over the years. However, as the story develops and we focus on The Creature’s development, it is clear we are getting a production that will delve into the questions of what makes us human, the morals of science, and the responsibility of the creator. Here are a few of your reviews that raise some interesting points about the production:

‘Could anyone watching not have some idea of the story of Frankenstein and his monster? Were we using our memories as back-up? One magic in Nick Dear’s script and Danny Boyle’s visionary setting was that vague images of Boris Karloff weren’t needed to engage with this creature’s philosophical and moral development. One of my favourite scenes was with the blind man, representing one of the few accepting innocents on an earth destructively populated with the selfishness of fear and hatred. This scene poignantly sowed the seeds [‘ideas batter me like hailstorms’] for the play’s steady crescendo towards the point when the creature declared that he had learned to lie. The finale was superb, with the scientist creator and his creature locked like twins in their co-dependent morality and nihilistic ambitions. ‘This is your universe, Frankenstein.’

Not everything worked though. The ‘comedy’ of the Scottish pair fell flat. What did that add? Similarly for some other incongruous lines. And I wondered how the script would fare outside the NT, in a small local theatre. Food for thought, as there was so much to revisit - for all the best reasons - in this performance.’
Alison via email

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the momentous entrance of the train near the beginning of the play. As we start in such a desolate and nearly speechless beginning, we are thrown back into the chaotic and mechanical life of society that doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. It was visual stunning from the blinding light of the tunnel, the choreographed movement from the ensemble and the exceptional stage automation that made it such a powerful moment.’
Jo via Email

‘What an interesting adaptation of a story that we’ve all heard before. Rather than a B-film horror with tropes to try and make you jump, we are treated to an in-depth exploration of the limit and vanity of man’s power. I was particularly taken with the humanity of The Creature and the monstrosity of Frankenstein, in a way highlighting the interconnectivity between the two, further proved by the interchanging roles between the two actors.

In this production, you see humanity at its best; the blind farmer welcoming the creature into his home, and yet you also see humanity at its worst such as Frankenstein betraying his word and killing The Bride. The creature absorbs this all like a sponge and becomes a product of how humanity treats him. It is a lesson we learn as children; don’t treat others badly just because they are different. However, there is complete poignancy here as we despair at The Creature’s pride when he learns how to lie.'
Philippa via Email

‘The set is yet another National Theatre masterpiece. From the industrial looking train, to the simple but very effective framed farmhouse, the set manages to transport you from location to location effortlessly.’
Lilly via email

‘Dark and brooding, shocking, hard hitting, and gripping. This adaptation of Frankenstein is full of well-known actors and actresses who all give amazing performances. The two lead men, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, both give incredible and extremely physical performances, made all the more intriguing by the fact that they swap roles depending on which performance you watch. The story builds slowly from the birth of the creature to his resentment at being abandoned by his creator, and his lack of acceptance by the world which leads to his seeking revenge, to the switching of power between the two main characters.

Not always easy to observe but with the beautiful staging, fantastic acting and a retelling of a well know story, this show was well worth watching.’
Janet via Facebook

‘I loved how Mark Tidesley plays with the space – showing the vastness of the theatre. There’s a certain irony there, man playing God where he looks so small on stage. The overhead surge of electricity as thousands of lightbulbs shine over the audience. You could feel the heat from them even sat at home – man’s God-like power.

The growth of The Creature was particularly fascinating. Danny Boyle explores themes of what makes us human; the good, the bad and eventually the ugly, as The Creature develops the skill to lie. It’s a really interesting exploration as to what we get from society.’
Matthew via Email

‘A fantastically modern and psychological look at a classic. Really makes you question who is the monster.’
Ellie via Email

Thank you for all of your fabulous reviews. They were wonderful to read and gave me lots to consider and think on. It just highlights the power of theatre to draw so many interpretations.

Our play for this week is another National Theatre production - Antony and Cleopatra starring Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, available from 7 May at 7pm.

I’m really excited to see what they do to a Shakespeare classic, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Take Care Reviewers!

Dan Whateley
Programming and Events Coordinator