first night


Caitlin McEwan goes Gothic with CTC's production of 'Frankenstein'


            My trip to see Castle Theatre Company’s production of Frankenstein last night coincided with some kind of event in the Undie, meaning that the drama unfolding in front of me was constantly undercut by the distracting blaring of European dance music  – it won’t come as a surprise to many that Avicii and Mary Shelley don’t make a winning combination. Unfortunately, this was not the only obstacle that the competent cast encountered in the course of this production. 


            I always struggle with adaptations of classic works of literature. Part of me believes that many texts were written as novels and not plays for a reason. Even if a text does possess dramatic potential, many productions rely too heavily on their source material, with heavy use of narration and a use of language that, while it works on the page, is profoundly non-naturalistic. However, Frankenstein isn’t one of these texts; it is adaptable for the stage, and has been done so successfully (most obviously, Nick Dear’s brilliant adaptation in 2011 for the National Theatre). Unfortunately, the script used in CTC’s production, adapted by director David Knowles, is languorously verbose, and the actors often have a hard job making it relatable or even making sense of it.


            Part of the problem is the setting. In general, staging the play in the round works well. James Ryan’s tech is minimal and the set is sparse, giving the audience a sense that we are almost inside Frankenstein’s mind, watching the reenactment of his memories. The framing device of the protagonist recounting his story is separated from the main narrative effectively through the simple putting on of a coat, and characters’ entering from one corner of the stage and exiting from another gives a sense of movement and pace to the production which is sadly lacking in the script. However, although the Great Hall lends a Gothic atmosphere to the piece, it is at the expense of comprehensibility. The acoustics in the venue are such that as soon as an actor addresses a line to one side of the audience, it is practically inaudible for the opposite side. This could be resolved somewhat with improved diction, but mainly the problem lies with the staging, and consequently it makes the narrative much harder to follow.   


The performances, on the whole, are promising, but are mired by a script that often feels a little long-winded. Hugh Train as Victor Frankenstein is given extensive monologues that feel as if they are lifted straight out of Shelley’s novel. He does well with these, establishing a real connection with the audience, and they do work with the aesthetic of the piece, but they are simply too long.


            However, I would have liked to see more tenderness from Train in his scenes with fiancée Elizabeth (Pippa Mosley), to contrast the bitterness of his monologues. Whether this was a fault of the script or the acting remains to be seen. Mosley does well to coax a sense of innocence and genuine care for Frankenstein out of the script’s one-dimensional version of Elizabeth. But she, like many of the other cast members, falls victim to the under-writing of most of the parts. They do the best that they can, but they can never really achieve more than a general sense of a character: Jenny Walser’s Mary is innocent, George Baker’s Henry is jovial. I am in no doubt that all the actors are capable of creating more complex characters, but regrettably they just aren’t given the opportunity to do so.


            Natasha Yadav has perhaps the hardest job of the evening in playing The Creature, a character that treads the fine line between man and beast. Casting a female in the role was an interesting choice by Knowles, and one that I wish he had exploited a little more – again, the part felt underwritten, which is strange considering the relationship between Frankenstein and the Creature is complex, unique, and deserving of exploration. Yadav tackles the problems of playing the Creature fairly well in general, and is ultimately sympathetic, although her jerky physicality is sometimes a little distracting.


            As a diversion from the strife of Epiphany term, Frankenstein is worth a watch – I know I benefitted from spending a couple of hours thinking about something other than my dissertation, and there are some really promising elements and ideas at work here. However, if you are looking for a piece of theatre that enters a dialogue with its source material rather than simply replicating it in an obvious manner, then I’m afraid that despite the best efforts of cast and production team, I can’t give the production my wholehearted recommendation, which is a real shame, because I think with a better script, this could have been a very good piece of theatre. 

8 March 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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