Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Confused in its execution, Selladoor’s touring version of Frankenstein has high production values but offers little in the way of pre-Halloween excitement.
The story – the scientist who seeks power over death, and ends up giving life to a creature of less-than-divine appearance, who disappoints its creator and is misunderstood by the world in general – is of course well known and often adapted.
Rona Munro’s new version, presented by Selladoor in collaboration with Perth Theatre, the Belgrade Coventry and Matthew Townshend Productions, stands out by putting the novel’s teenage creator Mary Shelley front and centre. It is she, rather than the Doctor or the Creature, who is the central figure here, with the scares coming from the workings of a patriarchal society that ignores the demands of its weaker members.
This is an excellent idea for a version of Frankenstein – unfortunately, it fails to work in practice. Instead, what ensues is a faithful if somewhat rushed retelling of the story, with its writer constantly commenting on it.
The character repeats or anticipates dialogue in order both to emphasise and undermine, repeatedly and needlessly points out the themes and stresses her own cleverness, even to the point of declaring early on ‘that’s a proper deathbed scene – you’re welcome’. As a depiction of the process of artistic creation, it is heavy-handed to say the least.
Eilidh Loan’s Mary is very well done, with a combination of political fury, ingenuity and teenage impetuosity, but the whole concept sits oddly. Munro’s dialogue for the character is unsurprisingly vibrant, and a whole play about her would work. Here she is underdeveloped, and appears as an intruder in her own creation, which also suffers as a result, ending up as singularly unGothic and entirely lacking in horror,
Becky Minto’s enclosed set and Simon Slater’s crunchy sound design add atmosphere, but Patricia Benecke’s direction is oddly bloodless, with Ben Castle Gibb’s Frankenstein strangely lacking in passion. Natali McCleary, as his fiancee Elizabeth, does better in suggesting hidden reserves, but it is clear that Munro does not know quite what to make of what is – to modern eyes – such a weirdly subservient character.
Michael Moreland’s Monster is less otherworldly and gruesome than most versions of the Creature, and is played with great empathy. In one sense, this makes his treatment and subsequent actions more realistic; however, these gains are offset by a considerable loss of impact and potential terror.
The other cast members – Thierry Mabonga, Sarah MacGillivray and the estimable Greg Powrie – discharge their roles diligently, but the absence of urgency leads to a general lack of direction.
Strangest of all is how untroubling it all is. Several times, Mary informs us how what we are seeing is horrifying. We, however, will be the judges of that – and instead it is merely baffling.
Running time 1 hour 55 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven St, EH3 9LQ
Monday 21 – Saturday 26 October 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here
Frankenstein on tour:
21 – 26 October
0131 529 6000
28 October – 2 November
029 2087 8889
4 – 9 November
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00
11 – 16 November
0151 709 4776
18 – 23 November
0844 871 7651
25 – 30 November
0844 871 7647
Frankenstein tour continues in 2020:
13 – 18 Jan, 2020
20 – 25 Jan, 2020
01332 59 39 39
27 Jan – 1 Feb, 2020
4 – 8 Feb, 2020
His Majesty’s Theatre
10 – 15 Feb, 2020
Lawrence Batley Theatre
01484 430 528
18 – 22 Feb, 2020
24 – 29 Feb, 2020
0300 303 8633
2 – 7 Mar, 2020
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
08448 717 627
The cast of Frankenstein. Pic: Tommy Ga Ken Wan