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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Theatre - Frankenstein - National Theatre

Star rating – 8/10

Mix together an Oscar winning Hollywood director, two critically acclaimed and popular stars, and a classic novel, and surely the National has a sure fire hit on its hands? Well judging by the audience reaction to this preview showing, yes it does, but that does not necessarily make it a classic production unfortunately.

On this particular evening the incredible and mesmerising Benedict Cumberbatch played The Creature with such intensity and ferocity that his performance truly has to be seen to be believed. I say on this particular night as Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller are alternating this role with that of Doctor Frankenstein, his creator, which is a pretty remarkable achievement in itself. The Creature coming to life and beginning to use his limbs and body for the very first time make a gripping opening to the play, even if you do get to see more of Mr Cumberbatch than usual as he writhes around naked for an inordinate length of time. Jonny Lee Miller is good in his role too, but the part of the creator is nothing here when compared to the Creature itself. I guess to make a fair judgement about the two leads you would have to go to see the play twice with them in the different roles.

And the production is pure Hollywood, with its dramatically stunning opening, its use of lights and big special effects; Boyle is playing on a big canvas here. And partly that is the problem, as the substance of the play is obscured slightly by the stylish production. And I don’t want to appear to be a purist who opposes any change to the original novel, indeed it is quite a challenge technically to dramatise it at all, but this adaptation by Nick Dear takes a few liberties too many, and not always for the good of the story or its message.

The novel is about science and religion; about whether we are born evil, or become that way through experiences; and about moral responsibility. In it we are supposed to feel heartbreaking sadness for The Creature who has been created, then abandoned, with no companion or friends in the world, and abhorred and feared by all who come across him. He starts of with a pure outlook, but is made monstrous by the cruelty of the world he meets. That sadly does not come across enough in the play. Also, his monstrous deeds are lessened in parts and over exaggerated in others. For example, I am not sure why he has to rape Frankenstein’s wife on her wedding night before her strangles her - just to murder her, as in Shelley’s text is surely enough.

This is a big, lavish and ambitious production with stunning acting, and great effects. And I am sure it will be acclaimed and talked about for years to come. It’s just that I was expecting the stars and got the earth. But maybe that’s me all over.

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