Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 14 April 2018
It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.
Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out.
Sadly though, it is potential that rarely gets exploited as much as it could. The ‘telling of the story’ actually weighs down the pace to an occasionally plodding degree as Shane Zaza’s scientist and Ryan Gage’s explorer struggle to enliven the conversation. And it is a lethargy that permeates throughout as Xia (wisely) resists engaging in Hammer Horror theatrics or gothic melodrama but doesn’t find much to replace it.
There are striking moments though – a literal lightbulb moment that Johanna Town’s lighting and Ben Stones’ design captures perfectly, in following the less is more rule of reveals. And Harry Attwell’s creature finds a deep empathy as the unquestioned victim of the piece (who knew, tabloid eds…?!). But this Frankenstein ends up feeling a little po-faced as seriousness alone does not dramatic imperative make, especially when the material is as familiar as this.