Anyone who is anyone at least knows the main premises of the classic, Frankenstein. Depicted over the years from the original novel in films, television, even costume at Halloween by the kids that knock on your door asking for mounds of sugar.
This is what makes this production such a challenge – how do you take something so well known and turn it into something that feels fresh, new and still a surprise?
Black Eyed Theatre have gone back to basics – they have taken the story and been true, reverted back to original theatre with keeping to the era, to the proscenium arch, no audience interaction and while this sounds unoriginal, it’s actually refreshing that they haven’t decided to take some modern take or make it some metaphorical twist on the story. Sometimes, keeping to the original is extraordinary in itself.
But while they do this, they still make it original to their company – with only four members of the cast, everyone pitches in – music and sounds are made on stage with instruments, objects and their own body and voices; times when the characters are changing, this leads to a change in instrumentalists and this is done with no pause of hesitance making the doubling up of characters and the atmosphere made by sound seamless.
Each performer (except for Frankenstein) at least has a minimum of two characters to play – there’s a sense of melodrama to this as at times the gestures and characterisation are a little hammed up – this does provide a little comic relief which is helpful in keeping us upbeat and ready for shocks and surprises when we are also being drawn into the deteriorating mental state of Frankenstein but they also play each character very well, letting us forget that they are only a cast of 4.
The highlight for me, as a huge collector of and interest in, is the puppetry. How do you make a huge muscly monster of 6-7ft tall? The National Theatre Saw Benedict Cumberpatch and Johnny Lee Miller in costume and mask created especially for them each, changing the character they played each night and this was a triumph itself. Here, Frankenstein is a full sized puppet, movement and speech only being possible with a minimum of 3 of the performers. Made of rope, it has been made in such a way as to represent his strong muscular form, and with the head with moveable mouth and eyes, he is eerie, frightening and also pulls at your heart strings. One performer providing the simplistic voice, and the others providing soundscapes to represent echo and give a horror atmosphere, we are sucked in and see only a 5th member of the cast, not a puppet.
Frankenstein is clever, truthful to the novel and an inspiring approach to theatre and classic text.