Venue: Perth Theatre
Date: 20th September 2019
Director: Patricia Benecke
Writer: Rona Munro, adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley
Principal cast: Eilidh Loan (Mary Shelley), Ben Castle-Gibb (Victor Frankenstein), Michael Moreland (The Monster), & Natali McCleary (Elizabeth Lavenza)
This original and ambitious take on the classic horror novel places its creator, Mary Shelley, at the very heart of the action. Weaving together fact and fiction is a clever and creative way to retell a story we all know and love, whilst exploring its fascinating origins and real-world thematic parallels.
Amongst the novel’s core themes were of course the nature of creation, and the complex relationship between a creator and their work. This adaptation dissects that dynamic even further, with the struggle between Frankenstein and his Monster mirrored in the mix of fear, wonder, social rebellion, and emotional anguish that fuel Shelley’s writing process. Placing an eccentric and snarky Shelley in the midst of her own work, pen scratching furiously at her notebook as she guides the audience through her thinking – and dissects the actions of her characters – serves to remind us of her remarkable youth and pioneering vision with regards to science, society, and literature.
The relatively small cast all put in solid performances, but the highlights were Moreland’s mix of grace and fury as The Monster, and Loan’s frantic energy as a writer coming to understand who the true monster of her work is. The striking set design was suitably gothic and haunting, and the excellent use of light and sound helped to deliver moments of genuine tension. More unexpected were the moments of humour peppered throughout; Shelley often relishing a sense of irony and omniscience as she toys with her characters’ fates. Whilst this means the play is engaging and entertaining throughout, it does lead to an inconsistency in tone. The show delivers both jumps and laughs with success, but it’s rarely quite as scary or as funny as it evidently wants to be.
You could argue that, since the play tries to balance both Shelley’s motivation behind the text, and the story of the book itself, neither half of the narrative is given the time it needs to breathe. This results in a whole that doesn’t quite deliver on the concept’s huge potential. Still, the production remains a playfully meta look at the creation process, a fresh take on an iconic story, and an inventive piece of theatre that is well worth experiencing.
Frankenstein’s opening run at Perth Theatre kicks off an extensive UK tour. Tickets and details can be found here.