Jess Pether | 19 Oct 2017 10:41am
Photo: David Ovenden
I’m a bit of a wimp; I freely admit to that fact. So I was kind of daring myself to be brave when I asked to review Frankenstein for Sardines. Maybe not scary to some, I was half worried I would have to sleep with the light on when I got home. But I’m very glad I braved it.
The Bridewell Theatre is small and intimate. The stage was bordered by four screens showing various sketchy images of the human body, and in the centre was a large wheel. From this, The Creature was born. As lightning strikes flashed over the heads of the audience, cleverly depicted with small strip lights, The Creature shuddered and jerked into life. Played by Jonathan Cooper, he was dressed only in a loin cloth, and his naked body was covered in dirt, disfigurement and scars. The Prosthetics and Make-Up team of Alice Batten-Jacobs and Daisy Moore should be exceptionally proud of their work here, as The Creature, who sadly never gets given any other name, was a frightening figure to behold.
Cooper’s first five minutes on stage were mesmerising. His ultimate aim being to rise from the floor to a standing position, the whole process took an agonising five minutes or so, complete with painful grunts and groans. This was the beginning of what was one of the most physically demanding parts I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to spend so much time performing something on stage when you personally know what’s coming next; the temptation is to rush things, worry that people will forget what you’re doing if you pause or use the silence, but Cooper took his time, using every muscle of his body to great effect. The whole thing was quite disturbing to watch, but ultimately very believable, and watching Cooper’s character progression and journey throughout the whole show was, I felt, a master class in acting.
The story, based on the novel by Mary Shelley (which I was surprised to find she wrote when she was only 18) follows The Creature as he is outcast by his disgusted maker, Victor Frankenstein. After been beaten and ridiculed by anyone he encounters, he stumbles into a blind man’s house. Played by Paul Francis, De Lacey has no fear of The Creature due to his lack of sight and over time, teaches him to speak, read and write, all the time keeping him a secret from his son and daughter-in-law. When they do finally meet him, they chase him from the house fearing for their father’s life. Francis played the part well, believable as blind, and made you feel for him in his impoverished life.
The stage was used well in most part and I liked how new images were projected onto the screens to indicate where we were. A distant mountain or a snow storm for example (although I did spot a small black arrow from a cursor on one screen towards the end of the show, which was obviously coming from the controlling computer!). The props and scenery were impressive and several of the screens were easily raised up when large bits of furniture needed to be brought on. However, some of the scene changes felt a bit stilted and some just took ages. I sympathise, as with no cloth to work behind, everything had to be done in plain sight of the audience, and the team did seem to work like a well-oiled machine, but it did break the magic and flow of the story slightly.
I initially thought the music for each scene was great and well suited, like that in a lively pub where people are dancing and drinking after a hard day’s work. But that was until a scene set in a meadow where The Creature discovers grass and water for the first time. The piece of music that accompanied this, complete with people signing “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, just felt too modern and was played so many times it became a little annoying. The only other negative I’d like to point out is that the down stage left curtain was left slightly open for most of the show, which meant I constantly had fleeting visions of cast members running or walking back stage past the gap. It was really off putting as many of them had light costumes on, and again, this broke the spell of the play. Hopefully this was just an opening night oversight.
Many of the supporting cast were strong and enjoyable to watch. Stephen Russell playing Victor Frankenstein I felt grew into his part and by the end, I was truly captured by his performance. Samantha Miller first appears in The Creature’s dream as a beautiful girl he falls in love with. She performed a beautiful contemporary dance here, which I really enjoyed. She then reappears later on as a Female Creature, created by Frankenstein as a companion for our lead, and I had to applaud her bravery at standing on stage wearing nothing more than a small loin cloth! But the supporting character I was most impressed with was Jessica Rogers as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s bride-to-be. She was charming, funny (she had some of the best lines in the show) and engaging. A joy to watch.
The story of The Creature is a sad one; he ends up learning all the wrong things from men, like how to hate, lie and mistrust. This leads to the death of Frankenstein’s young brother and also Elizabeth, and ultimately to Frankenstein going completely mad. The story comes full circle when The Creature thinks Frankenstein is dead and sobs that if he stays alive “I will teach you how to love”. Here, the created becomes the master and ultimately, the more human of the two.
Well done SEDOS. A really enjoyable night at the theatre.