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Why you should watch the NT Live Frankenstein

Why you should watch the NT Live Frankenstein

Why you should watch the NT Live Frankenstein cover photo on Stagedoor
Not all the critics raved but it’s definitely no misbegotten monster.

Director Danny Boyle certainly gives it some visual welly with help from designer Mark Tidesley and it has got stellar central performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller who alternate the roles of The Creature and Victor Frankenstein, the scientist who creates him.

The recorded version honours this alternation. You can see Cumberbatch as the monster on Thursday (which I will live Tweet) and Lee Miller on Friday, and then both will be available on-line. You can take your pick, or see both and compare and contrast. Which would have been too costly for most to do in the theatre, even if they could have nabbed a ticket. It sold out almost as soon as it was announced.

Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Photos by Catherine Ashmore

It marked Boyle’s return to the theatre after more than a decade of making movies. I reckon that the influence of his work on Frankenstein could be seen in his opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.

The central performances are quite something and the swapping of roles is not a gimmick. The Creature and the Creator are two sides of the same coin. They are both slave and master. Father and son. In an interview around the time of the premiere, Danny Boyle talked about Cumberbatch and Lee Miller as being “a Venn diagram.” He added, “I never worried about them being able to do it, it’s about whether I can fuel them enough. There’s some conceptual work, but the job of the director is mostly fuelling actors.”

It shows us the story from the Creature’s perspective which couldn’t be more welcome. “Slowly I learned the ways of humans; how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate…Finally I learned how to lie.” Look out for the strong parallels with Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature.

Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel, which she described as her “hideous progeny,” often hasn’t fared well in stage and movie adaptations. There are no bolts through the neck in Boyle’s version. It’s a much more subtle piece of work that stays closer to Shelley’s original which was written while she was pregnant having previously suffered the death of her small baby. Grief-stricken she wrote in her diary” “I dreamed that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and its lives.”

Mark Tidesley’s design is quite something. The ceiling above the audience is crusted with 4,000 light bulbs that spark and pop, sizzle and flash. He takes us to the Orkneys and the Arctic. There is a steam train representing the industrial revolution. Who doesn’t like a stream train on stage?

The opening and closing sequences are just extraordinary. Both full of balletic loneliness, and the latter –differing from Shelley’s ending– coloured by an almost Beckettian despair. The extended opening owes a great deal to the movement work by Toby Sedgwick.

Some of the supporting cast don’t find the sustenance they need in the script, but look out for a really touching performance from that admirable actor Karl Johnson as the Creature’s Milton-esque blind teacher, De Lacey. Lovely understated work.

The music—all eerie folk tunes—from Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld who are long-time Boyle collaborators is fab in the way music should be in the theatre. You feel it more than you notice it because it doesn’t keep drawing attention to itself. The Creature’s heartbeat is detectable throughout a score that Smith described as providing the “sonic architecture” of the show.

You can watch Benedict Cumberbatch performing as the creature on YouTube from 30 Apr at 7pm until 7 May at 7pm.

And you can watch Jonny Lee Miller performing as the creature on YouTube from 1 May at 7pm until 8 May at 7pm.

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Lyn Gardner

New tips and reviews every week. If you're looking for innovative theatre, you've come to the right place.
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