The shining star in the firmament of the National Theatre Live cinema broadcast series, such is its draw that three years on from its original theatrical staging, audiences are still clamouring for tickets to these limited re-screenings of Frankenstein.
The draw is undoubtedly the casting of the two main characters: Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, alternating as Victor Frankenstein and The Creature as well as the attraction of Danny Boyle as director, but one can’t discount the draw of Mary Shelley’s 1818 masterpiece, its themes of genetics, moral responsibility and the removal of the role of ‘God’ in creation and their resonance and relevance to audiences today.
Nick Dear’s adaptation starts as the book does with the birth of the Creature, his tentative first steps and his confrontation with Frankenstein, who, on seeing the aberration he has created banishes him. It is here that the play differs from the novel: this is very much the Creature’s story (we actually see very little of the titular character until half way through the piece), and unlike the myriad of Hollywood re-tellings, this is an extremely faithful representation of Shelley’s work, if stripped of many of its unnecessary threads.
Robbed of name and therefor a sense of identity, the Creature argues his right to happiness and longs for love and acceptance but the world the creature encounters is one of little compassion or kindness. His innocence corrupted, the Creature is driven to seek his revenge. Ultimately it begs the question: who is really the monster here?
Much, if not all of the success of this work are the two performances from the leads. Both Miller and Cumberbatch are outstanding. In this first re-screening the role of the Creature is taken by Cumberbatch,who gives a majestic and at times thoroughly touching performance, Miller delivers a mercurial take on the arrogant and morally weak Frankenstein.
In contrast, the supporting performances are somewhat leaden, particularly Naomie Harris as Frankenstein’s fiancee and George Harris as his father, it is however a difficult task to hold your own against two such gifted actors as Miller and Cumberbatch. However, the scenes between Karl Johnson as blind, impoverished academic De Lacey, who teaches the Creature not only to read but to think, are particularly affecting.
There are points where Nick Dear’s script can be a little plodding but the mesmerising Miller and Cumberbatch more than make up for any flaws and Danny Boyle’s direction and the staging itself literally crackles with energy: on, above and around the stage. The only question left is when are they going to release this on DVD???