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Frankenstein - NT Live

25 March 11 words: Penny Reeve
In the end, we learn that humankind are really the monsters and that pride really does beget a fall
 Jonny Lee Miller & Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein & Monster in NT Live Frankenstein
The National Theatre has been broadcasting live feeds for a couple of years now, and thankfully, for us Notts folk, to Broadway. It’s an amazing idea, a performance at one of the country’s best theatres, for those of us that don’t have the time or inclination to get down to London. Brilliant!

This time around the chosen play was the much anticipated Nick Dear and Danny Boyle collaboration, Frankenstein. One of the many exciting things about this performance was that the two main characters, Frankenstein and the monster, were played by two different actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who switched roles each day. Lucky me then, I got to see each actor in both roles.

So, let me be honest from the outset. I loved this production. Loved it. The first time I saw it, with Cumberbatch as the monster and Miller as Frankenstein, I loved it. Then, when I’d seen the roles reversed, I loved it even more. In fact, even if the play had a face like the monster’s, I think I’d still love it. My attention was drawn right from the start, when the monster emerges from a skin like membrane, thrashing about in it for a minute or two, illuminated by lights that pulsed to the sound of a heartbeat. When he lands on the ground, isolated and alone, we are made to watch around five minutes of the monster learning to use his limbs. Now this might sound like it could have been a little on the boring side, but trust me, it wasn’t.

What was very interesting here was the inspiration for the two actors when performing this scene. Miller took his from his two year old son, and Cumberbatch from stroke/car crash victims. This really sets the tone for the portrayal of the monsters by both. Miller’s monster is more innocent and finds his feet through discovery, like a child would whilst Cumberbatch’s is more desolate and at times uncomfortable to watch, but in a good way, as we see the monster’s vulnerability in his misfortune.

As we fly through the scenes, we are subjected to the prejudice faced by the monster, and, seeing as we’ve known him from birth, essentially, it feels that we are taking the punches alongside him. When De Lacey (played by the excellent Karl Johnson)’s family shun the monster we feel his pain and can empathise with the course of action he takes when seeking retribution – though you obviously don’t condone it (unless there are any pyromaniacs out there..?). Following this fiery moment, the monster heads to Geneva to gain an audience with the doctor, who is about to be married to his cousin (the outstanding Naomie Harris). Frankenstein agrees to give him what he wants, a bride and therefore chance at love, during a great dialogue between the two, where the monster reasons with the man.


Things, however, only get worse for the poor guy and his sanity seems to spiral out of control as his quest to eternally wind up Frankenstein and make him feel the sadness he’s been subjected to gains momentum. There is murder, rape, more murder and a healthy dollop of betrayal too. One refreshing chnage is that the monster in this version has been given a voice, which hasn’t been the case in past movies of the same subject (hello 1931 Frankenstein). He can reason, he can debate and we can understand his flawed logic. In the end, we learn that humankind are really the monsters and that pride really does beget a fall.

Both Cumberbatch and Miller make excellent monsters, and doctors. I was inclined to prefer Cumberbatch in the role of monster, as I felt that he really embodied a being driven crazy by other people’s attitudes towards him. Miller I preferred as the doctor as he added the monster to his portrayal of the man and this gives us a glimpse into how unstable he really was.

Stylistically the performance is flawless. The set design, by Mark Tildesley, was brilliant, with a central circular panel that twists, rises and falls with the changing sets. At points the play had a Mad Max feel about it, and a lot of this was to do with the set - especially the train scene. There is a huge amount of lighting, which looks great and aids the play with tricks such as pulsating and glowing red when the monster sets fire to stuff. The soundtrack was composed by Underworld, so, although it wasn
t featured that often, when used, the music provided the right ambiance and gave a gothic-y, industrial feel to the show.

All in all, an excellent offering from the Boyle/Dear team, giving us insight into the sanity of man and the tenderness of monsters. The play grabs you from the start and two and a bit hours later you emerge, blinking into the light, with about a million thoughts on morals, revenge and the nature of man. Bloody brilliant.

NT Live Frankenstein showed at Broadway 17 - 26 March.  Fear not if you missed out, it's coming back to Broadway on Friday 22 April and Monday 25 April. 

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