The National Theatre definitely have a recipe for a fantastically popular play. Take one classic novel with strong themes that still resonate in the present day, a script adapted by Nick Dear who was also responsible for adapting Agatha Christie’s Poirot for the small screen, 2009 Oscar winning director Danny Boyle and two popular leading men; Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock) and Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting). The additional factor of the leads switching the roles of Frankenstein and Creature each night, though potentially somewhat gimmicky, also seems to be drawing the crowds to the production’s sold-out run. This is a review of Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein.
The set and staging is stunning. From the very start, as the creature viscerally breaks forth, naked from it’s womb-like cocoon, spending aching moments struggling to teach itself to stand. As it escapes Frankenstein’s lab in Ingolstadt and begins to experience the world around it, the birds in the hay bales and the rain-soaked grass are beautifully realised. The steam train which travels towards the audience to signify the beginning of the Industrial Revolution all contributes to the epic and cinematic feel of the production.
The leading men are very much the centre of the production and hold the piece together. Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature is very much a man-child in his wonder and clumsiness at the beginning of the play but soon develops into an unpredictable yet strangely graceful brute. Despite this, out of the creature and Frankenstein it is the creature to which most of the audience’s sympathy is directed. Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein is quite manic in his scientific obsession but moves elegantly. Both leading men are brilliant, although I personally think Cumberbatch is the slightly more impressive of the two.
There is an interpretation of Shelly’s text that the creature and creator are two sides of the same man and, although perhaps it is a product of the actors switching roles, with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch you really believe this. You almost feel as though Frankenstein’s degenerating relationship with his fiance Elizabeth (Namoie Harris) is played out through both Frankenstein and the creature. At first Frankenstein loves Elizabeth, then ignores and belittles her, until the creature finally sexually abuses and murders her.
The supporting cast seem little more than props in this production although there are some memorable performances. Namoie Harris’ Elizabeth Lavenza and Victor Frankenstein’s younger brother William played on different nights by child actors William Nye and Jared Richard, both stand out a little more from the supporting cast.
The play sticks pretty well to what I so-far know of Mary Shelly’s original text (which I am currently in the process of reading) with the necessary cutting of the initial lead-up to Victor Frankenstein telling his story.
Being based on what is regarded as a classic Gothic novel with an over-arching theme of both the creature and Frankenstein being outsiders, this production would automatically be highly relevant to the Gothic and Alternative sub-cultures. Additionally, the industrial revolution brings a steam-punk flavour to the production. The music also seems industrial inspired, with driving rhythms somewhat reminiscent of a Skinny Puppy track.
All in all, this is an unmissable production particularly to those of the Gothic and Alternative sub-cultures. The National’s adaptation of Marry Shelly’s masterpiece is definitely deserving of all the hype and kudos.
Frankenstein runs until 2nd May 2011 at The National’s Olivier Theatre and tickets are available via The National Theatre’s website. If you can’t get tickets to see it at the theatre, the production is being broadcast live to cinemas both nationwide and internationally on the 17th March 2011 7pm (with Cumberbatch as the creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein) and 24th March 2011 7pm (with Jonny Lee Miller as the creature and Cumberbatch as Frankenstein). Visit the National Theatre Live site for venues and booking.