DERBY THEATRE – FRANKENSTEIN BY SEAN AYDON AFTER MARY SHELLEY
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of those stories that everyone thinks they know. That makes it hard for any production to say something different and make it relevant to today. How do you take a classic story beyond being one about horror and a monster?
Titled Wig have certainly challenged assumptions with their touring production of Frankenstein. We have women taking on key roles within the play. The gender swap works well with Eleanor McLoughlin plays the title role of Dr Victoria Frankenstein. Obsessively focussed on advancing her scientific knowledge at the expense of her relationships with people close to her.
Set in the period between the two World Wars, the Frankenstein play raises questions about the role of science, government funding and the use of scientific invention being used to cause harm.
Sean Aydon’s Frankenstein explores two central ideas. Is scientific progress always a good thing? And who decides when and how a discovery is to be used? Can science be immoral? The second is about the nature of perfection. Is there such a thing as a perfect person? Is the idea deeply dangerous? Perhaps to be human is to be by definition imperfect?
Annette Hannah as Francine, Frankenstein’s assistant, plays a key role in forcing the doctor to confront her assumptions about the neutrality of science. Raising questions relevant today with the development of A.I and other scientific advancements. Where do we draw the line? Should science be used to edit disease? What about making a child taller? Stronger? Or male?
Which brings us to ‘The Creature’. Cameron Robertson brings a great physicality to his performance, provoking sympathy despite his shocking actions. The scene between The Creature and his maker is particularly moving as he articulates his loneliness as “the bastard child of your ambition”.
The staging of this production benefits from a cleverly constructed set. Flipping from an intimate cramped wooden hut to Frankenstein’s cold clinical laboratory. As Frankenstein narrates her story to the Captain it takes a while for your eye to adapt to the darkness of the hut. This unfortunately makes it difficult to appreciate the subtlety of the performances. If there were more ambient lighting it would benefit the scenes at the start and the conclusion of the play. Basienka Blake who plays the Captain also portrays Dr Richter; a convincingly shady character seeking to use Frankenstein’s discoveries.
At times the use of atmospheric music does sometimes overwhelm the actors’ voices. However, the use of recorded monologues from Dr Frankenstein helps the play move at pace.
Fundamentally at the heart of this adaptation is the central question “what is it to be human”. It does also raise the question “who is the monster”? Dr Frankenstein or The Creature? I’ll leave you to decide.
Frankenstein runs at Derby Theatre until Saturday 23rd Sept