National Theatre Live Presents: Frankenstein

Reviewed by Jen Perry

edited by Carol Ryles

Produced by the National Theatre in early 2011, Frankenstein is Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 cautionary tale of scientific progress. I was fortunate enough to see this electric piece of British theatre through a fantastic initiative that films stage plays and screens them around the world at participating movie theatres. Exposing an isolated city like Perth to one of the most lauded productions in recent memory is an impressive feat. Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as they alternately play Frankenstein and the Creature. This interchanging of roles heightened the connection between rational thought and passion, a conflict greatly evidenced in both men’s stories. 

While experiencing theatre in front of a screen instead of a stage was initially off-putting, the sheer force of the performance transported me to London and gave me goose bumps, as if I were sitting in the first row. In the tradition of John Gardner’s Grendel, Dear’s play reveals Frankenstein from the creature’s point of view. For the entire first half of the play, the audience becomes intimately acquainted with him from creation to abandonment to ostracism from society.

Boyle’s use of lighting, soundscape and costumes are evocative of the steampunk movement, adding a touch of modernity to an otherwise period piece. The set design is awe-inspiringly simplistic yet complex. The stage is at varying times host to a large steam train, a rain-soaked meadow and a barren Scottish island. Boyle brings an overall cinematic finesse to the production with these grandiose set designs, seamless flow of scenes and story arc.

Cumberbatch, Miller and the entire cast are so enigmatic in their roles, I found myself continually glued to the edge of my seat. Do not miss your chance to see Frankenstein, easily the most thought provoking and rewarding piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

Frankenstein has a limited release, screening only June 23rd and 24th at Luna Leederville and Luna SX.

About Jen Perry

Jen is presently completing her honours year in German at the University of Western Australia, and was on the student-editing committee for Trove; a multimedia creative arts journal from 2010 to 2011.