Wednesday, 16 February 2011


16/2/11, National (Olivier)

2 hrs (just under) straight through. Nick Dear's version, directed by Danny Boyle, designed by Mark Tildesley, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller boxing and coxing alternate nights as Frankenstein and his Creature. Seen at a preview with three more performances to go before the first of two opening nights.

First the positives. One is a great performance by Cumberbatch as the Creature; first seen emerging naked from a backlit semi-transparent womb-like structure, writhing, groaning and twitching, then gradually acquiring the capacity to walk, to feel pain and fear, and (under the tutelage of Karl Johnson's blind old man) to read, to think and to quote great chunks of Milton.

The other is a spectacular set by Tildesley, which features (among much else) an extraordinary array of lightbulbs across the roof of the theatre under a reflective sheet, which flash blindingly as the creature comes to life. Tildesley makes more extensive use of the Olivier revolve than anything I recall since His Dark Materials and at times seems positively profligate with its visual imagery and the budget. Early on, after the creature's emergence, when he has found a great red cloak to clothe his nakedness but is still wandering alone, a sort of railway engine shoots forwards, harshly backlit, along rails to the front of the stage, with huge cogwheels on top and half the cast hanging off it: they do some sort of dance, and then it withdraws never to be seen again. Likewise for the scene with the boy by Lake Geneva enormous slatted walkways were dropped vertically from the flies to be spread out across the stage with the aid of stagehands, only to be whisked up and away again a few minutes later. And (spoiler alert) I caught a reference to at least one great romantic painting, Fuseli's The Nightmare, as the Creature crouched on Frankenstein's bride's bed having murdered her. No visual trick nor expense was spared.

I wish I'd liked the rest of it better but I remained largely unmoved and unengaged. Jonny Lee Miller looked like Colin Firth's Mr Darcy but sounded hoarse. He appears very briefly at the start, running away appalled at the sight of his creation; then doesn't reappear for 40 minutes. The moral and philosophical punch of the play is packed into two or three scenes between Frankenstein and the Creature, and a couple more between Frankenstein and his fiance, as they debate the Creature's ambiguous moral status (an outcast abandoned by his creator and so deserving sympathy, and yet a murderer; a putative Adam who sees himself instead as Milton's Satan), and Frankenstein's right to play god. Those scenes failed to spark, but that may just be preview-itis.

I should say that D who knows Mary Shelley's original well liked it a lot and so did S, but A agreed with me that it was dull. The audience (loads of teenage girls) screamed satisfyingly when the Creature appeared suddenly and unexpectedly at one point, and
gave the show a standing ovation.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Mr Lear - I agree that the stand-outs were Cumberbatch's performance and the sets but otherwise it was clunky and flat.

    My full reivew here: