Review: Manual Cinema's Frankenstein, Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh Fringe

The vast stage of the McEwan Hall is brimming with possibility. Home to Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein, multiple projectors and screens rub shoulders with bespoke musical instruments. Flower pots, steel pans and pipes overlook an orchestra pit, where a live band of four stretch across percussion, strings and woodwind. In the back, are a more visual ensemble. Their work is demanding of a slick choreography, with those manning live feed cameras mixing with performers and puppets to create a true spectacle. 

Thunder rolls overhead, and a flash of lighting thrusts the audience into the world of Mary Shelley. Played by Sarah Fornace, an intimate blend of shadow puppetry and animation depicts her life as a wife and expectant mother. Ringlets curl at her forehead, her eyelashes like caterpillars in a cocoon. But, when her baby, Clara, passes away, the stage becomes riddled with trauma. 

The famous tale of Victor Frankenstein is born out of her loss. Wind whistles through the space as Fornance, multi-roling as the scientist, leads the cast in a new direction. Playing with the form of silent film, Manual Cinema proceed in retelling Frankenstein in black and white. With the absence of spoken word, intertitles narrate the movements of the characters as they dive in and out of shot. It is astonishingly clever.

It is perhaps though, why the production can feel like something of a pantomime. The actions of the cast are weighted as they are forced to overcompensate for the absence of a script. In light of this, the piece does lose pace at points. While the creative layers are dizzying – almost verging on a sensory overload – the audience tend towards restlessness as the novelty wears off. That said, Manual Cinema are architects of the impossible, and so Shelley’s story is a fitting one indeed.

The Creature flits between a human (Julia VanArsdale Miller) and inanimate body. Misshapen and mottled, an ogre-like puppet lumbers into view. Designed by Lizi Breit and Drew Dir, their impressive craftsmanship works to highlight its vulnerabilities. In taming the beastly assumptions of others, the production finally hits its emotional and creative peak. This is Frankenstein as you have never experienced it before. 

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is playing at Underbelly Bristo Square until 26 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.