Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 28th September 2017
“It isn’t easy to produce a well loved story without either offending it’s fans or sliding into a boring retelling, and this play avoids both”
Some things in life are a given. There aren’t many I grant you, but one of them is that if it involves Mary Shelley I will be there! Frankenstein is one of my favourite books, first read in my mid-teens from a very Gothic looking, battered leather bound edition from nineteen twenty something bought for pennies at a jumble sale. This says so much about the teenager I was and the literary road it placed me on.
Strangely enough years later I made a friend who had pretty much the same experience in her younger years and together as adults we have probably seen and discussed this one story more than can ever be considered normal! So no prizes for guessing that I did NOT attend this production of Frankenstein alone! I wouldn’t have dreamed of it!
So together, we two Mary Shelley groupies, entered the intimate room that is Brockley Jack Theatre and sat pretty much ON the stage, torn between anticipation and fear of disappointment. The smoke machine built up a silent eerie mist and the lights flickered and dimmed slowly…
The play tells us three tales simultaneously: From the very beginning of the story, the fictional epic that is of creator building upon the idea of forming life. From the middle of the novel, the created and abandoned creature hunting for meaning and acceptance and also the biographical story of Mary Shelley herself.
The symbiotic relationship of Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Tester) and the Creature (Will Pinchin) is acted beautifully, with the young experimenter’s foray into early scientific discovery delivering a clear, slow slide into obsession, whilst his naive, maligned and confused creation grows in intelligence, despair, loneliness and anger.
Shelley’s suggestions that it’s the losses in Frankenstein’s life that drive his need to control death are evident throughout the script, and Ross McGregor has adapted the novel onto the stage amazingly well. It remains true to the original, explores what is known of the author’s life, and manages to scatter a good dose of observational laughs throughout.
Although the fiction aspect of the play runs scenes from both the first half of the story and the second half alongside each other (sometimes via alternating scenes and sometimes with both stories on stage at the same time), the story progression remains clear, if not chronological, and engages the audience in rethinking the play rather than just observing it.
The third narrative woven through this criss-crossing platform is that of the novelist herself. Her story is also told across two eras; following her life as it is drawing to it’s end and intermittently as she meets Percy Shelley for the first time and embarks on her life with him.
Cornelia Baumann is wonderful in her portrayal of all aspects of a life full of challenges and tragedies without confusing the audience as to which particular aspect of Mary Shelley’s life is unfolding on stage. I like the way this play draws on the parallels between her and her characters. It makes you wonder if, a hundred years before psychoanalysis began, this woman wrote out her own self analysis deliberately or unintentionally, and whether it helped her in any way to cope.
The rest of the talented cast (Oliver Brassell, Zoe Dales, Victoria Llewellyn, Phillip Ridout and Beatrice Vincent) each take on multiple roles that are essential to the story. Making every character different with minimal, but very Steampunk inspired, costume changes. Added to that, a beautifully designed yet simple set (Maisey Corie) and atmospheric lighting (Guy Lewis) and you have a visual treat.
It isn’t easy to produce a well loved story without either offending it’s fans or sliding into a boring retelling, and this play avoids both. Arrows & Traps Theatre Company didn’t disappoint.
I’ll leave you with my equally fanatical Shelley buddy’s verdict: ‘It will stay in my mind for a long time’
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Davor Tovarlaza
is at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 21st October