The monstrous regiment marches on
Star rating: Frankenstein ***
Venue: Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)
Frankenstein: A New Play ***
Spotlites (Venue 278)
Making Monsters **
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Frankenstein is probably only rivalled by Dracula as a work that has been subject to more stage and screen adaptations than any other novel – gothic or otherwise. Even so, there has never been an entirely faithful adaptation of the work as Mary Shelley’s tale – which was conceived exactly 200 years ago – is a rather verbose philosophical treatise with more than a few chilling moments rather than the bloody barnstormer that we’ve come to expect.
Scottish company Canny Creatures’s new production, Frankenstein isn’t slavishly faithful but is truer to its source than most. Smartly, it begins after Victor’s creation has been brought to life, sparing the audience having to sit through scenes they’ve seen so many times before and jump straight into the heart of the action. Writer-director Susannah Cavill was inspired to tackle this oft-told tale when she was shooting publicity shots for last year’s acclaimed production of Of Mice And Men and thought actors Nigel-Miles Thomas (The Monster) and Michael Roy Andrew (Victor) resembled Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Fittingly, there’s more than a touch of Hammer’s Dr Frankenstein to Andrew’s Victor, who’s portrayed as something of an emotionally distant, arrogant sociopath given to bragging about his “golden brain” rather than Shelley’s tortured Modern Prometheus. Much like Lee, Nigel-Miles Thomas’ enormous stature means he was probably fated to play the Monster but while Lee’s abomination was unfortunately mute, Thomas obviously relishes bellowing out lines like: “I too can create – I can create desolation!” with full-throated gusto.
This fast-paced, colourful production has an endearingly low-budget PG rated approach to gore (Frankenstein’s unfinished ‘Bride’ wears an exposed guts novelty T-shirt) and even improves a detail in Shelley’s novel – in the book Victor stops off briefly in Edinburgh en route to the Orkneys to create the Monster’s Bride. Here, he remains in Edinburgh as he’s given access to the medical facilities at the University – eminently sensible.
Oliver Schröder’s impressive original adaptation Frankenstein: A New Play acts as both a postscript and retelling of the story. Set on the Polar expedition ship that picks Viktor (played by Schröder) as he pursues his creation to the ends of the earth, it concentrates on the philosophical questions posed by Shelley (is it better to be hated than invisible?) and has an austerely stark all-black set which makes for some clever effects; the cloaked Monster (Kai Blin) moves as if he were made of darkness and shadow.
Schröder’s intelligent script is terrific, unfortunately the acting can’t quite measure up. This is crying out for the stronger players and lavish production budget it clearly deserves but, even so, the extended running time flies by and it’s a testament to Shelley’s novel that it can still inspire two such wildly diverse and enjoyable productions.
Conversely, it’s highly doubtful that we need another dramatisation of Mary’s inception of Frankenstein on the shores of Lake Geneva during what Stephen King called “one of the maddest British tea parties of all time”. Becky Cooper’s new play, Making Monsters, has nothing that we haven’t seen before except a flamboyant comic turn from Aizaac Sidhu as Lord Byron. The choice to portray Byron as camp as Kenneth Williams is certainly a curious one but it yields some unexpected laughs in a play that merely revisits well-worn ground. It’s almost as if half the cast know this material has been done to death, are as bored with it as we should be by now and are just intent on indulging themselves.
Matt Shepherd’s horrifically arch performance as Percy Shelley is grotesquely annoying (more “bloody awful” than Bloody Poetry), and although Cooper herself gives a good account of Mary, her performance is wasted.
Time to call a moratorium on all future works dealing with Shelley’s writing of her gothic masterpiece, frankly.
Frankenstein until 29 August; today 2:30pm. Frankenstein: A New Play until 20 August; today 8:45pm. Making Monsters until 27 August; today 5:05pm.