After a needless but painful kerfuffle, I made my way to the local cinema to watch an encore screening of Frankenstein, a National Theater (UK) production directed by Danny Boyles (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) and led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.I was not a great fan of the original novel Mary Shelley (published in 1818). I think I was too young, maybe pre-teens, and the story horrified me. Thus, I was a little apprehensive going into this theatrical revival.
One of the things that contributed to the play’s successful run in 2011 was that Benedict and Jonny actually alternated the roles of Victor and the Monster every other night. But the Monster is, without a doubt, the meatier role of the two. In this production, we don’t actually meet Frankenstein by name until 40 minutes into the play. Nonetheless, my recent history of appreciation upon rediscovering initially “balked at” works urged me to give Frankenstein a second chance. And the lure of Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays the Monster in this case) helped too – so there goes my twenty bucks.
Thinking back, it was more than worth it. SPOILERS GALORE BELOW
The show began with a brief overview of how the production came together: the writing, the casting (Benedict only wanted the part because of the reversed roles), the direction, the acting (both actors took movement classes to hone their interpretation of the Monster’s manner of moving. Jonny, for instance, said that he became an infant in his turn as the Monster.)
After the few words from the writer (Nick Dear) and the director, the screen dimmed.
First, we see a circling shot of what seem to be a huge cluster of stars – the lens zoom to show us they are in fact, countless twinkling light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, lighting the stage.
The stage is dark, safe for a strange upright womb-like sack. There is something within its semitransparent film and it’s pulsating with increasing intensity. After a good minute of struggle, the thing manages to get its legs out of the sack. An explosion of light from the ceiling signals another crack in the sack – and the thing, all contorted, slides onto the floor, trembling. This is our Monster.
It’s a human shaped creature, with a bald head and crude surgical stitches inches long all over its body. Its limbs flail, shaking like mad. At first, he (obvious by the loincloth) tries to crawl. But like a baby zebra, can’t muster the energy to hold his arms straight. He falls to the floor again and again with loud thuds and grimaces, and still, he cannot support his own body. After many attempts, he finally manages to lift himself up. From then on, the progress is quicker, and easier – eventually rising unsteadily but triumphantly to his feet. Within moments, the Monster is galloping in circles, howling with delight.
- Benedict’s body is UNREAL. I recall someone commenting that it was akin to a boxer’s physic – and they are right. But gosh, going through that beat every night must have been torture.
- The Monster does not speak (intelligibly) for at least 20min. It’s incredible how expressive and powerful body language can be. Like good old fashioned silent films, Benedict was able to convey a wealth of meaning through sheer physicality. 15min into the play, when the Monster first stands firmly on his feet, inwardly I was applauding him.
- Initially, i was going to do just one post for the review – but that’s just not possible. The next post will conclude Act 1.