Frankenstein at The National Theatre – Review

Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein ♥♥♥♥♥ Rating

A man emerges from a womb-like National Theatre Productioncocoon, helpless and naked. The monster is born. He grows up teaching himself to walk, run and make noises. There was an amazing moment as the sun rose, when the monster began laughing and clapping. I saw the monster played by Jonny Lee Miller and Dr Frankenstein by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was refreshing to have the story told from the monster’s point of view; Frankenstein is present for only a moment in the first half. The monster’s transformation from innocence to experience was presented like a bildungsroman. You will find the play troubles you; it is almost impossible to to decide who to sympathize with, though the monster’s original innocence is wonderfully portrayed.

No wonder the Times heralded the play with five stars: the literary allusions were plentiful. One of Blake’s pictures from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell appeared on a house; we had Milton, Marvell – all absolutely appropriate to the scientific questioning arising at the time of The Industrial Revolution and a brilliant way of emphasizing the monster’s ability to discuss and reason; conscious thought and awareness of our own death are historically thought of as distinguishing humans from animals. A National Theatre ‘classic’ moment was the arrival of a magnificent steam train on stage, with the ensemble creating the sound scape and bright lighting creating dark shadows – the grit and grime of industrialization.

The set was beautifully simple with rocky mountains about the sides and hundreds of light bulbs as an extruded chandelier flowing down above the audience to the stage, which were able to blind and create astonishing rippling light. Details such as flocks of birds flying up into the fly tower and Lake Geneva created using clever perspective all contriubute to this epic production.

Some of the dialogue in the more naturalistic scenes was shoddy, mostly due to poor scripting but not helped by slow paced, unimpressive acting by Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancee) and William (his younger brother). These family saga moments seemed out of place after extravagant special effects, dramatic ensemble work and a moving score.

Nevertheless, queue up for day tickets. Today. Whenever you can go. This will be compared in stature to War Horse and the ending was certainly as moving. And listen out for the bell.

Frankenstein is at the National Theatre until the beginning of May 2011.