This version of Frankenstein is not particularly thrilling, scary or vibrant. In my opinion, it falls into the “education” category in which students studying Mary Shelley’s classic book are unenthusiastically brought along to watch the book brought to life. To be fair to Blackeyed Theatre, the students in the audience seem to enjoy the show – judging by their silence throughout and applause at the end of the show. However, for someone outside of the school environment, the production tries too hard to tick theatre-technique boxes that are designed to please school teachers. Multi-roling and over-the-top character acting gets quickly irritating, and a strange minimalist set that we’re somehow expected to believe is a ship as well as Frankenstein’s lab makes the first act drag on.
The great reveal of Frankenstein is met by a ripple of unimpressed laughter from the audience and the students behind us – it’s somewhat of an anticlimax, to say the least. Victor Frankenstein, played with an unrealistic wide-eyed mania by Ben Warwick, has done nothing but pour out enthusiasm for his great experiment. Flashing lights and menacing music builds until the curtain is finally pulled away to reveal… a puppet on a slab. “He’s breathing,” says Frankenstein. Uh, no, the puppet definitely is not breathing…
It’s a bit of a shame as, once the monster is brought to life, the artistry behind it is actually quite impressive and detailed. However, it’s impossible to know this from such a static posture way at the back of the stage. It sets up the Creature as a joke, when actually the design is particularly clever. It is human in form, hideous but not unrealistically so. The company shy away from the square-headed bolts-in-the-brain image we so often associate with the Creature, and instead bring a human aspect to it. This encourages empathy from the audience, and as such the second act is far more interesting. Though slightly reminiscent of Voldemort, the voice of the Creature is beautifully provided by Louis Labovitch (who, in my opinion, stood out throughout the piece).
The rest of the cast are relatively forgettable, though they each play their roles well. I feel Frankenstein has far too much to say, which becomes expositional, but the way the cast work together and seamlessly switch characters is impressive. The way they use the set to demonstrate new scenes and settings is also clever, and that observation will no doubt sneak its way into GCSE or A-Level essays across the country.
For those who like experiential, symbolic pieces of theatre: this one could be for you. Catch Frankenstein on its nationwide tour!