REVIEW: Frankenstein, Derby Theatre (UK Tour) ✭✭✭

Gary Stringer reviews the Frankenstein UK Tour which is currently playing at Derby Theatre.

Frankenstein review Derby Theatre
Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Derby Theatre and UK tour
Three stars
UK Tour Schedule

Frankenstein is a classic story, of that there is no doubt. A cornerstone of our cultural consciousness, one that everyone is familiar with.  But how well do we really know the story of the tragic doctor and his monstrous creation? Is this a gothic horror? Or pioneering science fiction? The creature is even often mistaken by name for its creator, and it’s apparent that this is a story everyone only thinks they know, adapted from a book that many haven’t ever read. Since its publication in 1818, the ubiquity of Frankenstein’s creature in film and on television has distorted the original source material and overshadowed its author, 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. This is something that playwright Rona Munro addresses in this new touring production from Selladoor, currently at Derby Theatre.

Derby Theatre
Natali McCleary. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

There are some subtle nods to the cinematic legacy of the story, and Becky Minto’s mainly white set and predominantly black costumes recall the monochrome Universal movies, with a shock of white flowers in her hair as part of Elizabeth’s bridal attire, for example. It resurrects Mary Shelley’s role, placing her centre stage as the beating heart of her story. We are invited to bear witness, as Mary –  played with commanding determination by Eilidh Loan in an assured professional stage debut – recalls the nightmare that gave birth to her creature and commits it to paper, and to posterity. Striding the stage, she wields her pen like a scalpel as she fleshes out her characters, inventing new horrors for them to face. Breaking the fourth wall, she makes the audience complicit in her work and in questioning the abominable genius of Doctor Frankenstein.

Frankenstein Derby Theatre
Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Also making his professional stage debut, Ben Castle Gibb is a handsome and idealistic Victor Frankenstein, closer to the charismatic doctor of the book – beautifully driven, as the author intended, as opposed to the older “mad scientist” usually portrayed on celluloid. Shadowed by Mary, who shares lines with her doctor, literally putting words into his mouth as the story unfolds, the doctor undertakes his peripatetic relationship with his creature. Michael Moreland plays the monster in an electrifyingly energetic performance, leaping and snarling around the stage as well as bringing a tragic pathos as he realises his nature and his fate. His isolation from the world, locked out of humanity is as sadly pertinent today, as scientific advances make our world ever smaller, our increasingly digital lives making us ever more alone. As the story stresses, be careful what you wish for. The remaining cast of four alternate the other roles, from ship’s captain to childhood friends and family as Victor’s ambition spirals out of control and his creation wreaks bloody revenge for his abandonment. Natali McCleary, in particular, faces the full force of the monster’s rage as Victor’s bride, Elizabeth.

Ben Castle Gibb
Michael Moreland, Ben Castle Gibb and Eilidh Loan. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Mary asks us at the beginning, “Is this scary enough?” For those seeking a more visceral thrill akin to the cinematic versions of the story, no, it’s not. There is certainly atmosphere: some inventive sound design from Simon Slater conjures up creaking ice, thunderstorms and snapped necks. But this production, directed by Patricia Benecke, is more about the philosophical horrors derived from curiosity unchecked, the man-made conflict between science and the natural world, and our place within it. This serves as a timely reminder that all the strides we have made via scientific progress have not come without a cost: this is the true horror of an unchecked quest for knowledge.

Running at Derby Theatre to 25 January 2020 as part of a UK tour. Click here for more tour dates.

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