To begin with, this National Theatre production is directed by Danny Boyle, with the engraving still warm on his Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire and written by veteran writer (and theatrical Boyle collaborator) Nick Dear!
Next up, this unique stage production focuses much more on the point of view of Frankenstein's Monster than most other productions have dared to.
Taking this uniqueness one step deeper, Boyle and Dear had the bold idea of casting the monster and Victor Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch! If you're asking "Who plays Who?" the answer is "Yes!". Meaning, one night Miller is "The Creature" and Cumberbatch is Victor and the next night Cumberbatch is "The Creature" and Miller is Victor. The brilliance of this, as handled by these fantastically talented actors, causes the blurring of the lines between Creator and Creation in ways that have to be seen to be believed!!!
And, of course, this Frankenstein is a pure, real, live STAGE Production, complete with the live audience, practical effects and nothing to make this a "motion Picture", save the multiple camera angles (all used tastefully, I might add). Well, we've got the camera angles and the fact that I saw the damned thing last night in a MOVIE THEATRE! Yeah, another peculiarity about this production is that for two nights, March 17, 2011 and March 24, 2011, Frankenstein was performed live on stage and immediately broadcast to UK Television (as part of the "National Theatre Live" Program) as well as to select American movie theatres, with the main parts alternated between the two nights. And then, those same recordings began making the digital TOUR to various other interested theatres.
Last night, the March 17th show, featuring Miller as the Mad Doctor and Cumberbatch as the Scarred Newborn hit a couple of Cinemas in San Diego.
The good news is that the production on stage and screen is pretty much brilliant... and at twenty bucks a ticket, it had better damned well be, am I right?
The sparse, dark stage animates as the Experiment is born, fully formed in an adult's body with a completely empty baby-brain. Innocent, frightened... powerful. Unfortunately it is also monstrous, deformed, scarred and unloved... immediately rejected by its Father.
It's the creature that we follow as it learns to walk, speak, imitate, reason and question.
As this adult toddler's journey into mental and emotional adulthood the question of what makes a villain, a monster or a man is posed and answered in many brilliant ways, as the creature meets far more foes than friends on his way to seek out his creator, ask who he is and, hopefully, find some kind of belonging.
The entire cast is nothing short of incredible, part for part. Still, some standouts include Karl Johnson as the blind teacher De Lacey, the beautiful Naomie Harris as Victor's fiancιe Elizabeth, William Nye as Victor's younger brother William, George Harris as Victor's father M. Frankenstein and, if anybody could hold a candle to sweet, sweet Naomie, Andreea Padurariu as the "Female Creature", whom we see naked... and she's beautiful! And they're not alternating her part, so repeat viewers can enjoy the performance again and again and again!!!
As brilliant as both of these per-... I mean ALL of these performances are, the main focus is, as it ought to be, on Frankenstein himself and his creature in the bitter waltz they engage in through the latter half of the play. There is a bizarre mixture of and alternation between admiration and animosity in their interactions as they thrash back and forth between father and son and hunter and prey, often within the time it takes to blink an eye. Further, just when one of the two manages to win the sympathy of the audience, the tables flip again and we see each in a new, deeper, darker light.
This is helped immensely by the fact that each actor has a more than intimate insight into the character of the other! Thus, while both Frankenstein and Frankenstein's Monster are wonderfully distinct from each other, the play is at its very best when we begin to see the Monster in Frankenstein and the Frankenstein in the Monster, all without transformation, but with beautiful evolution.
The vision of this version of Frankenstein is awesome in its scope. Each set piece on the oft-barren stage is an eye-catching icon and each character, great and small, is at once a fully formed person and a domino, ready to fall at the cue of Boyle and Dear. Each character has a complexity all their own and an untold story just below the surface (you can read it in their faces) and none more so than our two main characters!
While Cumberbatch and Miller steal their own title show over and over during this ambitious and successful work of art, none of the ancillary characters ever quite feel particularly ancillary. Supporting, yes, but necessary all. Harris' acting alone is something I'll never forget. Seeing her alternate from intense, beaming joy to crippling sorrow to visceral terror to radiant hope to broken disappointment as the story quickly spins her Elizabeth around is almost as fascinating as watching the dark dance of the Frankensteins. Bravo all around.
There is most assuredly no dearth of Frankenstein adaptations, but you're not likely to see one like this again... if ever at all. The wonder of the multiple cameras, bringing the cinema (and home) audience onto the stage makes every seat in the house a great one, yet my only regret, somehow, is that I wasn't in the theatre itself, watching this live. In this form alone, NT Live's Frankenstein is worth every bit of a stitched-together Four and One Half Stars out of Five! Live and in person, this might blow anyone out of their seat. That is, unless they end up sitting in front of the genetic defectives from Planet Moron that sat behind my group, snickering, repeating lines and saying things like "Uh... that was COOL!", like a gang of lost and wandering "Beavis and Butt-Head" Clones. At one point I wondered if the shortest bus from the "Special School" had broken down outside and spilled its content into the theatre seats. Hey, I know live theatre, even filtered through a silver screen, isn't for just everybody, but if you can't grasp it, damn it... stay home, man!!!
Me? I'll be reading Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus again... with a whole new take on the creature... and its creator.
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