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Frankenstein – National Theatre At Home – Olivier Theatre REVIEW

Updated: May 19, 2020

This week during lockdown we are treated to a viewing of the 2011 production of Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature with Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein. 

The opening scenes have stayed with me since watching the show. Such simplicity and powerful visual elements from the off. A single hand pressed against a sticky film of membrane, while red lights flood the stage. A monster is born. 

Above him a ceiling of hanging light bulbs electrocute and illuminate his battered body covered in horrendously realistic staples, scars and stitches, rather than the conventional bolt through the neck look. It’s one of those things that you don’t particularly want to see but can’t seem to tear your eyes away. 

As he drags himself to his feet you begin to watch a full sized adult with a child’s mind appear, he stumbled and groans, gaining consciousness and control of his limbs. It’s not long before Frankenstein enters and realises what has happened, quickly fleeing in fear. 

It’s the power of Cumberbatch’s acting that can immediately make you connect with something so unlike yourself. To make you feel emotion for a creature that is unlike anyone or thing you’ve never met is pure skill. The abundance of sympathy you have for The Creature is overwhelming and immediately makes you follow the rest of the story with his interests at heart. 

He nails every single movement, and mannerism as The Creature develops and learns how to speak, move and take on tricky human tasks such as lying and revenge. From the opening scenes where bearly a word is uttered for the first 15 minutes to the brutal end after everything The Creature goes through, Cumberbatch is mesmerising.  

Jonny Lee Miller is engaging as the inventor with his slightly mad scientist vibes and fixed focus on science rather than his fiance. His interests clash and contrast with The Creature’s deep desire to have someone like him to love.  

Rain and fire both appear on stage as well as a train and transparent house. Set and scenery are simple but the ceiling filled with exposed light bulbs steal the show for me. 

A lot of tension and atmosphere has been lost in the translation to screen for this production as so much of it relies on the proximity, lighting and eerie sounds. The jump scares are dampened and it doesn’t feel quite as intense as it could when you’re on your sofa in broad daylight with the kettle boiling in the background. Not a criticism of Boyle’s production at all, just a shame it doesn’t translate as well to screen as other productions. 

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