National Theatre Live – Frankenstein

I’m absolutely blown away. I need to remain in my seat to compose myself, after watching the most intense piece of theatre I’ve ever seen. And I’m not even at the theatre.

Frankenstein, the latest National Theatre Live production, has just been broadcast to cinemas – live – around the world. And I’ve watched it from a large, comfy seat here at Clapham Picturehouse.

Beforehand, I wondered if the whole feel of live theatre, the live performance, would be lost if watching on screen from a different venue. It wasn’t. In some ways, you see more as you follow the camera’s eye – zooming in on the actors’ expressions and the action, or pulling out for a fuller landscape, or focusing on parts of the stage set, particularly during scene changes.

This new play, based on Mary Shelley’s classic British novel, is written by Nick Dear and directed by Lancastrian Danny Boyle (of Slumdog Millionaire fame, also directing the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, 27th July 2012).

The play opens with a creature (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) experiencing his first moments of life. Just like a new-born, he is unable to stand, walk or talk. With a perfectly formed body yet hideous appearance (huge scars, stitches and sores cover his skin) the creature has just been created and animated, a scientific experiment of Victor Frankenstein (played by Jonny Lee Miller).

Dark and disturbing, the creature flips and slides around the stage, learning how to move, how to make sound, how to be. Cumberbatch’s performance is chilling, intense and superb.


Watch the trailer for Frankenstein on You Tube

Wanting to be good but abandoned by Frankenstein and rejected by the society he so wishes to be part of, the tormented creature seeks companionship. And revenge.

This adaptation of the story (originally written by an 18 year old Shelley, and published in 1818) is wholly relevant for today’s audience. While focusing on human failing, it is dotted with humour. It is engaging, emotional, and at times – horrifying.

Stage sets are sophisticated and scene changes are speedy: the paths around Lake Geneva disappear up into the roof at the end of one scene, while an entire furnished room winds down underground at the end of another. Music and sound by Underworld (perhaps best known for the Trainspotting soundtrack and major hit Born Slippy) is equally brilliant. And it’s a top cast that includes Naomie Harris, George Harris and Ella Smith, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate playing the parts of the creature and Victor Frankenstein for each performance.

A Channel 4 documentary called Frankenstein – The Making of a Myth goes behind the scenes of this National Theatre production and is due to be broadcast this summer. I can’t wait to see it.

More info:
~ National Theatre website
~ Sunday Telegraph article – June 2010 – Boyle unveils ‘epic and intimate’ 2012 Olympic opening ceremony
~ BBC News article – June 2010 Boyle to direct 2012 Olympics opening ceremony

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