A writer’s note in the programme of this production of Frankenstein reminded me of a comedy I once saw during which I barely raised a smile all evening, Here, the aim is evidently different – the objective is to make the audience frightened: “I hope this play terrifies you. That’s its job.” If that is its only function, then frankly, I ought to end this review at this point, award one star, and declare it a dismal failure.
Just as well, then, that it has other noteworthy qualities, even if your reviewer remained relatively comfortable throughout. There are, for instance, no weak links to report in the cast, and this interesting take on a familiar story does well to put its writer Mary Shelley (an engaging Eilidh Loan) at the centre of much of the action. There are times when it feels as though she is directing traffic on stage, admonishing her characters as to what they should do next. For such a young writer (Frankenstein was completed when Shelley was twenty years of age), Shelley is decisive and refreshing unhesitant.
This may not be a scary show, but it can be a chilling one. Even this, however, is softened by Shelley undergoing the writing process for her novel. During her various edits and rewrites she periodically reminds herself that ‘horror’ is what she is aiming for. Her closing lines make her sound more narcissistic than the production probably intended – or otherwise superfluous: the audience has been made aware the novel is the result of her imagination, creativity and literary talent, so why is there the need to shout it? She may as well have been yelling the seven times table (it would have been just as factual).
The stage is on two levels, and when certain scenes take place ‘upstairs’, more often than not the performance space downstairs looks bare, something that could have been better addressed with more focused lighting. There’s no doubting Shelley’s skillset – her direct relationship to The Monster (Michael Moreland) is that of a creator of a creator. But her frequent interjections to the storyline being unfolded started to get tiresome, disrupting the flow of the narrative.
On balance, the decision to keep things focused on the Frankenstein book and not dwell on biographical details about Shelley was a sensible one – it is, after all, Frankenstein that the audience have come to see. That said, there are some similarities between Victor Frankenstein (Ben Castle-Gibb, making an impressive professional debut in this production) and Shelley’s husband Percy, so perhaps there’s no escaping biographical aspects after all. The play seems to suggest that she effectively loses control of her characters, particularly The Monster: at one point she comes across as having given up, simply asking The Monster precisely what it is that he wants.
There’s something about the way in which, for instance, Justine (Sarah MacGillivray), a servant to the Frankensteins, is treated. That, at least, has a considerable shock factor. On the whole, however, this is a production for the more intellectually minded rather than those seeking a theatrical thrill.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An eighteen-year-old girl, Mary Shelley, dreams up a monster whose tragic story will capture the imaginations of generations to come.
A young scientist by the name of Frankenstein breathes life into a gruesome body. Banished into an indifferent world, Frankenstein’s creature desperately seeks out his true identity, but the agony of rejection and a broken promise push him into darkness. Dangerous and vengeful, the creature threatens to obliterate Frankenstein and everyone he loves, in a ferocious and bloodthirsty hunt for his maker.
Rona Munro’s brilliant new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece places the writer herself amongst the action, as she wrestles with her creation and with the stark realities facing revolutionary young women, then and now. The production is directed by Patricia Benecke, with composition and sound design by Simon Slater, lighting design by Grant Anderson, design by Becky Minto and movement direction by Jonnie Riordan.
Ben Castle-Gibb – Frankenstein
Eilidh Loan – Mary Shelley
Thierry Mabonga – Henry/Walton
Sarah MacGillivray – Mother/Justine
Natali McCleary – Elizabeth/Safie
Michael Moreland – The Monster
Greg Powrie – Father/Master/Waldman
at Richmond Theatre
Little Green, TW9 1QJ
Monday 18 – Saturday 23 November 2019
Book Tickets for Richmond Theatre