Frankenstein’s monster is recreated through a feminist perspective of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein to celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary. The predominantly female creative team and cast of Burn Bright Theatre bring to life a female creature (Elizabeth Schenk) in the intimate studio of The Space on the Isle of Dogs.
The audience surrounds the stage and witnesses the story of Elizabeth Frankenstein (Danielle Winter) up close. Her story unfolds through time, framed as a narration revealed to the Captain (Sarah Lawrie) of a ship sailing the Arctic who provides shelter for Elizabeth. The flashbacks of her life start with her adoption by the Frankensteins and their encouragements of gaining knowledge and enabling the progress of mankind. However, the family’s peace does not remain untouched after disease kills Elizabeth’s parents and put her in charge of the family. Her urge for knowledge and the pain of the losses turns into an obsession that culminates in the creation of new life: her creature. Shocked and traumatised, she abandons ‘it’ and her family, and only returns after her foster-siblings are threatened by death. Elizabeth realises that she cannot escape what she has created and faces her creation who, herself, fights to survive in the world. Not only the urge for knowledge, but also the urge to escape loneliness is their shared pursuit that binds them tighter together as Elizabeth first has imagined.
Written by Isabel Dixon and directed by Katherine Timms, Burn Bright Theatre pays homage to Shelley by shifting the perspective of the main characters to two strong women interrelated by fighting for family. Winter’s Elizabeth is outstanding and also Schenk’s Creature shows her skill to unmask vulnerability through innocent playfulness and also through hatred filled rage. Even though her self-formation is genuinely embodied, her speaking rhythm (this ability is learnt through observation) becomes tiring throughout her storytelling and triggers a debate about possible alternatives to present her communication skills. The learning process of human adaptation also questions the time frame and spatial locations of the separation of creator and creature, which is not specified in the production.
The ensemble (which includes Carlton Venn and Charlotte Peak) is amazingly connected with each other throughout the unfolding narrative and thus relives Frankenstein as bravura. Their use of space and their inventive imagination guides the gazes of the audience through stormy nights, windy boat journeys and diverse impressions of different locations. The voice acting and puppetry is an essential and entertaining addition to the show. The minimalistic approach to the revival of Frankenstein gives it the necessary spice to invite the audience for its re-imagination. The narrational frame of the performance merges the perspective of self-reflection in retrospect and of a distant observer. Hereby, the ensemble presents various narrative voices and angles to step in an out of the moment of action. The gap between narration and action is easily bridged by the focussed and connected teamwork of the ensemble.
Laura Kaye Thomson’s composed songs, especially the theme song, roots Elizabeth’s story between melancholy, playfulness and suspense to stress the patterns of her life. Furthermore, the lighting (Andy Straw) and the sound (Odinn Orn Hilmarsson) reinforces the diverse and layered shades of Frankenstein’s life. Nevertheless, a deeper investigation into the significance of the creator-created-existence and their bond is missing in this rollercoaster ride of sensations.
This feminist revival of Shelley’s Frankenstein is a must-see for every Frankenstein lover. The highly skilled connectedness of the performers immerses the audience in a story of the unbreakable bond between creator and creature, which restricts both parties in living an independent life.
Frankenstein is playing at The Space until 10 March 2018
Photo: Sam Elwin Photography