It’s difficult to tackle a classic of Frankenstein’s proportions. But director Ross McGregor and the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre really know how to put on a show. Arresting, emotional and full of atmospheric touches, this reimagining tells the original tale with grace while adding a unique narrative spin.
To mark the 200-year anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original novel, McGregor felt it was his time to add to the Frankenstein canon. “Frankenstein is so iconic… it’s such a flexible and deep piece of literature. Plus, it’s just so much fun to do. There’s literally a scene where a monster made of dead people comes to life. You don’t see that in Alan Ayckbourn.”
McGregor and the Arrow Theatre Company’s enjoyment of the production is apparent. At a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes, it’s a lengthy play that intertwines three stories: that of Victor Frankenstein, the Creature and Mary Shelley herself. It is arguably longer than it needs to be and some of the shorter scenes are a tad superfluous. Yet each plot is interesting and well developed, and it would appear the length derives from a desire not to diminish any of the three tales that are fascinating in their own right.
Mary Shelley’s own story is told through flashbacks. Shelley herself (Cornelia Baumann) is older, suffering from a brain tumour and reflecting on her childhood. We witness her fraught family life, early infatuation with Percy Shelley and the tragedies of her early twenties.
This is conflated with the personal story of Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Tester), which focuses much more on the impact of his scientific pursuits on his family than typical adaptations. Tester does justice as the young scientist whose genius propels him to madness, displaying little sympathy to the family he leaves behind- arguably slightly more remorse would have given the character greater depth.
The third storyline focuses on the Creature’s encounter with Safie (Zoe Dales). In this adaptation, the blind Safie takes pity on the Creature to the point of teaching him to speak. Their encounters are bittersweet, imbued with sympathetic tension. Will Pinchin’s portrayal of the Creature is definitely the standout and it is a fantastically physical character performance that captures the Creature’s lumbering, lost and confused state perfectly.
The costume, set design and commitment to detail elevates the production; there is a real air of professionalism about it. And the lighting, designed by Ben Jacobs, is truly extraordinary and the scene of bringing the Creature to life is- appropriately- electrifying.
Frankenstein played at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until October 21 2017.
Photo: Davor Tovarlaza, The Ocular Creative