If you have experienced Mel Brooks’ version of Young Frankenstein and wondered what Mary Shelley’s original was really like, you should head to the Bridewell Theatre near Blackfriars Station this week where the amateur Stock Exchange Operatic and Dramatic Society is staging Nick Dear’s faithful and evocative play based on the novel, first seen at the National Theatre in 2011.
What is immediately apparent is that the ‘stars’ of this show are the designers. Steven King has produced a deceptively simple set consisting of a bare space masked by four large screens on which are projected a seemingly unending stream of all types of imaginative projections (Adrian Jenkins) taking us into the mind of ‘The Creature’ as well as swiftly moving us, the audience, from one scene to another. Nick Dear’s clever adaptation is a compassionate retelling of the original story through the eyes of ‘The Creature’, which looks at the process in which new life learns what it is to be human, moving from innocence to knowledge and from gratitude to violent revenge.
‘The Creature’ is a very physical role; indeed the actor is rarely offstage and the first half hour of the play is virtually a monologue, with very little dialogue, as he learns to move, walk, run and eventually talk. Jonathon Cooper’s success in portraying this role is due in no small measure to the prosthetics which have been designed for him (Alice Batten-Jacobs). His whole body looks as if it has been ‘constructed’, but without the finishing touches, so that it is scarred and pitted from head to toe: quite scary at first! The actor is at his very best when he is given time to explore the limitations of his physicality, and the voice he eventually finds is very believable.
He is greatly aided in his characterisation by Martin Walton’s superb lighting design, especially at the beginning of the play when ‘The Creature’ is suspended on a giant wheel before breaking free and stumbling into life.
A large ensemble supporting cast aids the success of this staging, with barely a weak link. Mention should be made of Samuel Jenshoj in the short, secondary role of William, Frankenstein’s son, who is very believable, as well as Stephen Russell, as Frankenstein himself, vocally excellent, even if he has a predilection for moving too much which reduces his authority, especially in his massive duologue with The Creature towards the end of the first half of the play.
Review by John Groves
“Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie.”
Nick Dear’s adaptation is a compassionate retelling of the original story, which looks at the process in which a new life learns what it is to be human, moving from innocence to knowledge and from gratitude to violent revenge. It’s a visceral show that allows the audience to see the story through the eyes of the Creature, leaving the question, just who is the monster?
Childlike in his innocence but grotesque in form, Frankenstein’s bewildered creature is cast out into a hostile universe by his horror-struck maker. Meeting with cruelty wherever he goes, the friendless Creature, increasingly desperate and vengeful, determines to track down his creator and strike a terrifying deal.
Urgent concerns of scientific responsibility, parental neglect, cognitive development and the nature of good and evil are embedded within this thrilling and deeply disturbing classic Gothic tale.
The production has direction by Matt Gould (London Road, Noises Off, Into the Woods), sound and video designs by Adrian Jeakins (London Road, Cynthia Erivo: Hey, it’s been some time, Anthony Rapp Live in Concert), and set designs by award-winning designer Steven King, who has won two NODA awards for his work on Noises Off and Into the Woods. Joining the team are lighting designer Martin Walton, prosthetics and make-up artist Alice Batten-Jacobs, and fight coordinator Dan Styles.
by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley
Wednesday 17 to Saturday 21 October 2017
Bride Lane, off Fleet Street
London EC4Y 8EQ
Box office: www.sedos.co.uk