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Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster – Battersea Arts Centre

Frankenstein - Photo credit Joyce Nicholls.
Frankenstein – Photo credit Joyce Nicholls.

Shelley’s 1818 classic novel, Frankenstein, is a tale for the ages. Its themes of genius, greed and godliness are pertinent across time. The dangers of unchecked research and creativity, the violence of the creations of man, Shelley’s text is ripe for reinterpretation in almost any setting; but there’s the rough: we have to ask why Frankenstein now, rather than any other time.

BAC Beatbox Academy’s version of the narrative is more of a gig than a play, with audience interaction, comedy, music and little dialogue. The original subtitle, ‘The Modern Prometheus’, is removed in favour of ‘How to Make a Monster’, which raises the question: what is today’s monster?

This production’s answer is social media. With FOMO and Instagram, heightened concerns about mental health, and the latest events in New Zealand, this message is certainly on point. But is it really so radical? ‘Social media is bad for you’ feels like a bit of safe bet in an otherwise novel take on the narrative.

The stage is empty except for six amplifiers which double as chairs for the performers. Six actors, casually attired in grey hoodies, enter and deliver a super crisp, highly technical gig-theatre piece on the modern monstrosity. ABH Beatbox features as a comic, MC-cum-evil-genius introducing the creation of the monster via the accumulation of body parts. Interjections from Nathaniel Forder-Stable and Tyler Worthington propose alterations to the body, accompanied by renditions of ‘Let’s Get It On’ and ‘Hit The Road Jack’. They are all accomplished performers, dancers and singers, making for a team without a weak link.

Though the tone is fun and the performance cheery, there are moments of darkness, reflecting the isolation so prevalent in our disconnected world. Aminita Francis introduces some spoken-word meditations on racism, and Beth Griffin gives a Misty-esque meditation on ‘angry black girl’ trope.

Though perhaps not the most accomplished beatboxer (ADH is the national No2 performer), Griffin has the best stage presence, comfortable dancing, acting, singing and rapping. Her physicality, accompanying her vocal abilities, makes for an arresting experience.

It is in the moments of semi-comedy, semi-social commentary that Frankenstein is at its best. When it shifts to the more explicitly political, it loses its edge. In choosing to reinterpret a classic, the company takes advantage of the text’s ageless quality; but this is exactly the danger because if the narrative remains ageless, it also becomes irrelevant. The story needs to be made extremely specific in order to avoid generalisation. And the decision to examine social media as today’s greatest danger is about as far from radical as can be. Which is a shame, because the rest of the show is, well, monstrously good fun.

4 stars

Review by Thomas Froy

The five-star smash hit Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster returns to Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) for an extended run. Part electrifying gig, part thrilling theatre, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster is a powerful and poetic show that pushes the power of the human voice to it’s expressive, musical and rhythmic limits. Six performers with six microphones take apart Mary Shelley’s original and reimagine a world of modern monsters – from our over-stimulated digital age to the pressures to conform – while taking musical inspirations from Pachelbel to The Prodigy.

Frankenstein is the first professional production by BAC Beatbox Academy. It has been created over two years using Scratch – a gradual process of development, sharing and feedback pioneered at Battersea Arts Centre.

AMINITA (Aminita Francis)
GLITCH (Nadine Rose Johnson)
WIZ-RD (Tyler Worthington)
NATIVE (Nathaniel Forder-Staple)
ABH (ABH Beatbox)
GROVE (Beth Griffin)

Co-Directors: Conrad Murray & David Cumming
Lighting Designer: Sherry Coenen
Production Manager and Re-Lighter: Michael Cunningham
Original Producer (for BAC): Lara Taylor
Producer (for BAC): Rosie Scudder
Producing Coordinators: Nassy Konan and Fiona Sowole

Title: Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster
Artist/Company: Battersea Arts Centre and BAC Beatbox Academy
Venue: Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN
Date: 12 – 29 Mar 2019


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