Monday, April 4, 2011

Frankenstein: National Theatre Live

Recently I was lucky enough to see Danny Boyle's production of Frankenstein thanks to National Theatre Live.  If it is playing at a theatre near you Go See It! 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate playing Victor Frankenstein and the Creature.  The version I saw had Jonny Lee Miller playing the Creature, and although most of the reviews I have read say that Cumberbatch does a better Creature, I though Miller did a fine job.  This version, written by Nick Dear, tells the story from the Creature's point of view.  In fact, we never see Victor except through the eyes of his creation.  It begins with the creature being born and quickly rejected by his horrified and disgusted "father."  The creature escapes to the woods, but not before being beaten and vilified by the local population (this sequence is very "steampunk" if that is your sort of thing.)

The creature learns to read and write thanks to a kindly blind man that lives in the woods.  Rejected by the blind man's horrified family, the creature learns the meaning of sadness, hate, and revenge.  He decides he can never live in society, but he desires a "mate" to share his life with. His only possession is a copy of Victor's journal, which he stole when he was banished. Through reading the journal the Creature learns how he was made and by whom.  He returns to Geneva to confront Frankenstein and demand that he perform the "miracle' again.

The rest of the play follows Shelley's novel pretty closely, with the exception of the cliffhanger type ending.  Dear and Boyle focus on the father/son aspects of the story and how the sins of the father will ultimately doom the son.  The creature is depicted in a sympathetic light, although Boyle does not shy away from depicting the horrors he inflicts on others.  What we see is a newborn who wanted to be good, but who takes the path of evil when rejected by society.  He destroys the only two people who were kind to him, the blind man and Elizabeth, but cannot bring himself to destroy his creator.  It is pretty heavy stuff for a Sunday morning (when I saw it.)  I left feeling really devastated.

The set design is amazing, and the industrial style score gives the production a jolt of electricity.  The real amazing thing here however is the performance by the two leads.  Miller throws himself into the role of the creature, in what turns out to be a very physically demanding performance. Cumberbatch really makes you hate Victor Frankenstein for what he has done, yet you can understand his pride and disappointment in his "child."  All around one of the best adaptations of Frankenstein I have ever seen. 

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