Edinburgh Fringe 2015
This adaptation does manage to keep the essence of Victor and the Creature’s stories, but it also loses a lot of the nuances, and somehow fails to quite mirror the intensity of the novel and various past productions.
As we enter the theatre for Old Deerfield Productions’ new adaptation of Frankenstein, we are immediately plunged into Victor’s laboratory as the sound of crackling electricity surrounds us and images of lightning flash across the gauzy backdrop. When the audience is seated, a figure under the gauze begins to move and moan, stretching up a clumsy hand. We watch as the creature is born, emerging from the gauze naked to collapse on the floor, before gradually learning to walk and discovering (with the help of more sound effects and projected images) the dangers of fire and the feeling of rain on bare skin. It does seem, whether consciously or not, to have been heavily inspired by the recent National Theatre production of Frankenstein, and it is difficult not to have that production in mind while watching this adaptation.
Lindel Hart gives a very good performance as the creature, born as a fully grown man incapable of speech or even very basic movements, almost infant-like. His frustrated groans as he attempts to speak evoked great sympathy, and the journey from innocent creature to monster- from “Adam” to the “Fallen Angel”- is tragic to watch. It’s an intensely vocal and physical performance, as he moves from an opening sequence where we watch him almost being born, and then learning to walk, to several violent onstage murders and a rape. The keening, wailing sound he makes after several of these actions, even from offstage while Victor speaks, is chilling. I felt at times that perhaps his speech became a little too clear, too smooth for someone who had only recently learned to speak- but perhaps I just have Johnny Lee Miller/Benedict Cumberbatch’s version too firmly stuck in my head.
As the now infamous Victor Frankenstein, Colin Allen is rather less intense than Hart’s creature; but then this production does focus primarily on the creature’s story, rather than the creator’s, so there is less opportunity for him to really shine. Nevertheless, he plays a convincingly obsessed scientist and is appropriately appalled with his finished creation. As De Lacey, the old blind man, I found him rather unconvincing, but he makes a surprisingly believable innocent young boy as Victor’s younger brother William. And he did an excellent job of flailing desperately both times he was strangled onstage. One rather odd element of the show was Jane Williams, who plays Mary Shelley and Elizabeth. It felt like an inappropriate casting for both roles, and the character of Mary Shelley felt entirely unnecessary to the production. She seemed more of a motherly figure, watching over proceedings and whistling or putting a book on the floor occasionally- had I not read the flyer I would have had absolutely no idea who she was supposed to be. It’s an interesting idea, but not effective in practice.
Cramming the entire plot of Mary Shelley’s complex and richly worded novel into a one hour show was never going to be easy. This adaptation does manage to keep the essence of Victor and the Creature’s stories, but it also loses a lot of the nuances, and somehow fails to quite mirror the intensity of the novel and various past productions. Some modern phrases have slipped into the script which feel rather incongruous (“Hear me out, Frankenstein!” being particularly grating to me) and some clumsy paraphrases of direct quotes from the book. Perhaps I’m rather harsh with Frankenstein being my favourite book and having seen how spectacular it can be on stage… It was certainly an ambitious project, and the result certainly has its strong points- just not nearly as many as one would hope for.