Frankenstein was created in 1816 by a then 19-year-old Mary Shelley. Two years later it was officially published and has, to date, been recreated in over 30 different varieties – from stage and film, to TV and radio. A further 30 or more productions (including the musical The Rocky Horror Show and films like Frankenweenie directed by Tim Burton and I, Frankenstein starring Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy), owe their success, creation and/or varying levels of inspiration to the legendary story. In this instance, Rona Munro (writer) and Patricia Benecke (director) have brought a brand new interpretation of this hugely well-known piece of literary royalty to the stage.
Away from the more traditional presentation of stage-bound editions of Frankenstein, the story within this play is told by Shelley herself, who barely leaves the stage during the whole performance. She takes us through the actual creation of the book by narrating parts of the novel as she writes it, and there are moments of synchronised speech from her and her characters further emphasising the real-time nature of the account.
Eilidh Loan (as Shelley) is superb. Her energy, expression and emotion demand (and deservedly receive) full attention throughout the entire performance, and her ability to not only narrate the story but also demonstrate the turmoil of a troubled writer’s mind, creates a brilliant spectacle.
Some may find her use of dramatic volume quite excessive, and the sporadic side quips/breaking of the fourth wall a little contrived, but that is down to personal preference and there is certainly a huge benefit to them being present.
Ben Castle Gibb (as Frankenstein) is also fantastic. He gives a powerful and believably crazed rendition of the Dr, effectively immersing the audience in the individual’s feelings, interactions and inner monologue. His increasingly manic behaviour, paired with the intensity of his delivery, convincingly depicts the tumultuous and horrific experiences of his character.
The rest of the cast give very commendable performances. There are times where it becomes a little hard to follow the story as, although the multi-rolling is assisted by new accents, adapted body language and slightly differing costumes, the variations aren’t always enough to make it immediately clear which of the particular characters is on stage. That said delivery is excellent by all and none give less than 100% to the performance.
The set and lighting are simple yet incredibly effective in heightening the mood and atmosphere throughout the show. The minimalistic use of props matched with the focal point being heavily on the characters rather than their surroundings helps prevent scenes from becoming cluttered or confusing.
In summary, Frankenstein has kept audiences enthralled in its many guises for over 200 years, and this rendition with its new and entertaining style will certainly help continue that legacy. It is undeniably an unfamiliar and fairly unique way of presenting a well-known story, but this individuality will definitely be part of the appeal for many. From long-term fans to relative newcomers to the world of Frankenstein, it is worth a watch for all.
Review by Sam Dunning
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.
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
from Monday 2nd March to Saturday 7th March 2020.