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A CurtainUp London Review
Whereas Shelley's point may have been about the interference with the natural order in a scientist imitating Godly creation, in Danny Boyle's spectacular production it becomes a study of cruelty in our treatment of otherness. If it were not interesting enough to have Danny Boyle back directing in the theatre after his film successes with Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting amongst others, this production has been devised with the two leads playing The Creature and Frankenstein alternately. Thus, some nights Benedict Cumberbatch will play the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller, Victor Frankenstein and vice versa. Though some critics saw both I chose to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as the Scientist. < But that was before a virus struck down several of the cast, including Cumberbatch himself.
In the event the understudy played the role of the Scientist and Jonny Lee Miller stepped up to play the Creature, I am assured iof by those who have seen both that it was a happy event, but one I shall only be able to confirm after I have seen Cumberbatch play the Creature on the cinema live streaming on 17th March. The twinning of the roles may have been meant to underline the point that the Creature is Victor's alter ego.
The birthing room of the Creature forms the opening scene to the sound of a tolling bell. From a pupa like drum stretched tight and lit by myriad suspended, cascading light bulbs and heat lamps, we see the electrifying struggle for birth of the naked monster, gashes in his flesh crudely stitched together. Without a midwife and we ask why is the Scientist not here for the birth, the Creature struggles first to be born and then to push himself to standing, writhing and straining and grunting strange pre speech utterances. It is the most compelling of opening scenes, lasting a full quarter of an hour, hypnotic and somehow being there at the birth and seeing him gasp for life, elicits our sympathy.
As if birth itself wasn't the most dangerous experience, on rails right into the audience, a train thunders in through smoke, sulphurous fumes lit yellow, giant cogs and ironwork, men in goggles become machinery, automata, forming part of the engine with synchronised mechanical movement. Fireworks create welding like sparks of metal on hot metal. This is exciting, incredibly effective and innovative staging. The Creature has found a red cloak to wrap himself in but it cannot protect him from being stoned and vilified. Again and again there are visual images we will remember, a cave of light, an arch drawn across it, birds taking flight and choral music from Africa blending the sacred and the jungle. Here in the countryside, rain will wash the Creature and he will eat grass.
The Creature is befriended by a old, blind man, De Lacey (Karl Johnson) who teaches him to talk and read, verses from Milton and Keats and predicts that the Creature will find a female to love. A dream sequence is choreographed with the fantasy female creature. When they see the Creature, although his appearance isn't that horrific, De Lacey's son and daughter in law persecute him. This prompts a killing spree and the Creature leaves to find the Scientist whose journal he has and in search of a female creature. The Scientist, Victor Frankenstein (Daniel Ings) is persuaded and travels to a remote Scottish island to construct a female but later Victor reneges on the bargain. There is some interaction between Elizabeth (understudy Lizzie Winkler) Victor's kindly fiancée but the Creature kills her on her wedding day and is pursued across the world by Victor.
Despite the murder of innocents, two that have befriended him and one a child, our sympathies lie not with his human creator but with the inhuman Creature. There is almost no sympathy for Victor although Daniel Ings is excellent in the role. This may be because of his late entry into the play: we don't see Victor for most of the first hour and he doesn't seem to reflect on the consequences of his scientific experimentation. Victor's interaction with Elizabeth his fiancée is devoid of emotion. The Creature on the other hand recognises fault but blames it on his human teachers. He identifies with Satan rather than Adam from Paradise Lost and later says, "I am good at the art of assimilation. I have watched, and listened, and learnt. At first I knew nothing at all. Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master, I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie.&uot;
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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