Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 14 April 2018
Frankenstein, a new adaptation written by April De Angelis, brings Mary Shelley’s sci-fi horror novel, to life on the Royal Exchange’s stage. It’s been 200 years since Shelley penned the dark, gothic tale of Victor Frankenstein and his macabre creation, but it continues to captivate audiences. Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein at the National immediately springs to mind – now, Matthew Xia brings the ultimate tale of horror to Manchester.
Perhaps most pleasingly, there is no green body paint or bolts through the neck – and any remnants of the 1930s Hollywood monster movies are far removed. Xia remains faithful to Shelley’s original text and skilfully transfers the same narrative framing device to deliver the moments from the novel, to the stage. This works really well – the shifts in time are seamless as Victor Frankenstein (Shane Zaza) recounts his story, an ambitious scientist and his grotesque creation, to Captain Robert Walton (Ryan Gage).
Ben Stones’ design sits somewhere within the 18th century – the costume designs are beautifully exciting – powdered wigs, bustles, breeches and short naval jackets. However, the main attraction and the audience’s curiosity surrounds the depiction of The Creature (Harry Atwell). A lightning bolt strikes and, after a tense blackout, he is revealed to us. Swathed in layers of dusty black fabrics, he is scarred and stitched with bulging yellow eyes and tangles of hair. Asymmetric and twitching with claw-like fingers – he is uncomfortable, unloveable and perhaps too articulate.
The staging and the design are steeped in the 18th century, which although is pleasing to the eye, limits the production somewhat. The theatricality is present – the costumes are stunningly detailed, Johanna Town’s wonderfully nightmarish lighting design and the gore, oh the gore – severed limbs, bones and blood-stained rags.
For me though, there was too little metaphor offered as a commentary on the world today and the themes which resonate strongly in modern times – ethics surrounding robots, cloning and genetics. Nevertheless, the Royal Exchange has succeeded in bringing psychologically unnerving horror to their stage. With an underlying sense of uneasiness, Frankenstein is guaranteed to make you jump out of your skin on more than one occasion.