I went to see the NT Live production of Frankenstein at my local cinema the other day, and phewf. It was intense, it was stunning, and it had me crying through start to finish.
I am a big fan of the Nation Theatre productions, and have seen a few screened at the cinema before (Othello, She Stoops To Conquer – both amazing in very different ways) and I encourage you to just go and see something if you ever have the opportunity, because they are fantastic.
This version was a Danny Boyle production, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller swapping the roles of Frankenstein and the Creature between shows. I chose to go see the version where Cumberbatch played the Creature because I heard he was better at the extremely animated and movement-driven part, but if I’m honest, I really want to see the roles reversed as well now, purely out of curiosity.
The first 10 minutes or so are the most interesting 10 minutes of theatre I have ever seen. The Creature is born, and like a child out of the womb, he slowly adapts to the world around him. Words can’t describe how brilliant this first scene was, because words were not even used. It was purely movement. I can’t imagine how much work went into choreographing this scene, because to act like you have no idea how to use the body you are in, and then to act that you are slowly learning how to move, and stand, and talk… It is like nothing I have ever seen before.
You could definitely tell it was a Danny Boyle production, because it was pretty weird. It breached into the realms of being a tad too strange at moments, I felt, but then it quickly pulled these moments back with the wonderful acting from Cumberbatch.
The play focuses much more on the Creature’s journey, over Frankenstein’s viewpoint. But this made it the opposite of the gothic, dark and abusive themes we often associate with the Creature, and definitely pulled onto the light and innocence that the Creature begins with. Which is why it is so heartbreaking when it all goes wrong for him.
I really liked how this version made it seem like the real monster was Frankenstein, not the Creature, because when I read the book many years ago, that’s how I saw it, and I think that is what Shelley wanted us to see. Of course, the Creature does not stay so innocent, and Cumberbatch again presented this darker, tormented side of the Creature in such a heart-wrenching way. I just wanted to give him a hug, but also run away from him screaming. Much like Elizabeth, I suppose!
The final scene left the play perfectly for me. It left that fear factor in, but it still made you sob in empathetic pathetic-ness for the Creature. Johnny Lee Miller deserves a mention too, because he carried off the cold, cruel and broken scientist so well, that the only reason I have properly mentioned him before this is because I hated Victor Frankenstein so much. Which is exactly what I did when I read it, so props to Miller there.
Overall, this was one of the most stunning pieces of theatre I have ever seen, and I am desperate to see it again, with or without the roles reversed. If you are a fan of Frankenstein, or if you have no idea what it is about, I urge you to try and see it, because to me, this is both the perfect introduction to the story, and also a brilliant new take on the classic.
*None of the images I have used are my own (naughty, naughty)