Theatre review: Frankenstein, Perth Theatre

In early October the UK-wide press night for Rona Munro’s new version of the Frankenstein story will take place at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, which is perhaps why this weekend’s Scottish press night of this touring production by Selladoor, with Perth Theatre, the Belgrade and Matthew Townshend, still looked so much like a work in progress, a collision of interesting ideas and slightly frantic performance still searching for the tone, mood and voice that will bind it all into a coherent whole.
Eilidh Loan (right) captures the ruthless horror of Mary Shelley's vision.Eilidh Loan (right) captures the ruthless horror of Mary Shelley's vision.
Eilidh Loan (right) captures the ruthless horror of Mary Shelley's vision.

Frankenstein, Perth Theatre ***

At the heart of this version stands Eilidh Loan’s Mary Shelley, the author; not so much the haunted, brilliant and devastatingly bereaved girl of Liz Lochhead’s Shelley play Blood and Ice, but rather a young punk-inflected intellectual avenger in a long leather coat, inventing her brilliant young rationalist hero Victor Frankenstein – a man strikingly similar in type to her husband, the poet Percy Shelley – so that she can inflict upon him the greatest emotional suffering any human being can imagine, including the eventual death of everyone he loves, at the hands of the monster he has created.

It is, to put it mildly, an interesting take on the driving impulse behind this archetypal horror story. In Patricia Benecke’s as-yet slightly chaotic production, Loan pulls out every available stop to make it work, capturing the ruthless horror of Mary’s vision but adding a distinctive layer of ironic, vengeful sarcasm about men like Victor and their pretensions. She meets her match in Michael Moreland’s Monster, an evidently human creature driven to murderous rage by his creator’s failure to love and accept him, and Ben Castle Gibb, as Victor, just about manages to keep pace with them, alternating between standard mid-Victorian pomposity and a driven hyper-rationalist madness.

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Elsewhere, though, the small cast of seven seem a shade overstretched and under-rehearsed. They relentlessly double and treble characters, and flickfrom one scenario to another, on Becky Minto’s evocative two-storey set, with not quite enough in the way of visual and theatrical cues. By the end, there’s a tantalising feeling of a show that fully grasps the enduring power of Mary Shelley’s story but somehow never quite gives itself time, or finds the right tone, fully to explore its implications, in areas from sexual politics to looming environmental disaster, and that, by choosing to highlight a single, slightly reductive view of Mary’s motives, often cuts off its own lines of emotional inquiry, just when they are becoming most interesting. Joyce McMillan

Perth Theatre, until 21 September; King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 21-26 October; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 25-30 November; His Majesty’s Aberdeen, 4-8 February.