The British National Theatre's Frankenstein and I must say, it was magnificent. I had read about the production earlier this winter, and was intrigued by the idea. Director Danny Boyle, in an effort to explore the duality of the characters Dr Frankenstein and The Creature, had cast two actors to play both parts. The pair alternate roles, while the remainder of the cast remains static. This in itself fascinated me, not to mention the new play being written, with an increased focus on the original book, and returning the Creature his voice.
Well, I am grateful for technology! This production exceeded even my imaginings of what it might be like. First, the use of lights, sound and set to create the locations was unrivaled. With sound design by none other than Underworld the space was transformed from a dark laboratory, to a bright field, to a dirty European town, to Lake Geneva, and finally The Arctic. Lights rippled through the space like lightning bolts, shining clearly through to the actors like rays of sun. Particularly notable was the effect of the burning house, which employed a scrim house, red lights, and lots of stage smoke. The use of the multi-leveled set over the large expanse of mostly bare stage was truly an achievement in design and direction merging. At times the actors were right out in the audience, while at times so far removed the sense of loneliness was palpable.It was exciting to see the extent of the "magic" of theatre pushed past its boundaries to new heights.
The performances, most notably of the two leads, were brilliant. This broadcast featured Jonny Lee Miller as Creature, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein. The opening scenes of the Creature's "Birth" were a truly riveting piece of physical work. We watched as Miller was thrust out of the man-sized womb, muscles twitching with a yearning to move. Beautifully choreographed movement ensued as he learned to push himself up, then to crawl, then to stand and walk. The pure agility of this sequence was amazing. At the same time, he learned to speak, first through expressionistic sounds and gestures, and as the play continued, through formal language. This physical and intellectual progression was seamless from start to finish; at no point did we question his ability to adapt and assimilate into "Normal" human functioning.
Cumberbatch's character played a secondary role at the start, however truly came to force as the drama came to a tipping point. The assured intellectual clarity of his movements and actions devolved slowly and methodically into the ravings of a madman. By the end, once roles had reversed, the mirroring of movement between the two actors solidified the idea that they were two parts of a single being.
The performances of supporting cast should be noted as well; Naomie Harris was simply beautiful as the pure and moral Elizabeth; Ella Smith was both raucous as the prostitute Gretel, and pious as the maid Clarice. The only note that rang false in this production was George Harris as Frankenstein's Father, the Magistrate. Enjoyable in many other roles, Harris lacked sensitivity and passion as the Magistrate, as a result some lines came of as insincere.
Overall a brilliant and inspiring production, marrying technological feats with physical theatre and brilliant performances. Bravo!