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Dr Frankenstein review at Northern Stage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – ‘an uneven adaptation’

Polly Frame as Dr Frankenstein at Northern Stage. Photo: Pamela Raith

Dr Frankenstein is the first production in Northern Stage’s Queens of the North season, a celebration of great female stories and story tellers.

Selma Dimitrijevic has reimagined the anti-hero of Mary Shelly’s gothic novel as a woman with Victor becoming Victoria.

It’s an adaptation that never follows through on the dramatic possibilities of this gender swap approach. Although set in the early 19th century there is little evidence of Victoria struggling to pursue her scientific ambitions against an unyielding patriarchal society. Her family are at worst, mildly disapproving and her father is happy to for her to study abroad.

This is the least of the script’s problems. The first half is disjointed and confused as it attempts to condense large chunks of Shelley’s convoluted plot, while the pacing of the second half drags on only to end with a whimper. Lorne Campbell’s production sometimes seems at odds with itself. It is suggested that the root of Frankenstein’s obsession to reanimate the dead is grief for her deceased mother, yet she seems completely unconcerned when her brother dies.

Though Tom Piper’s spare design and Lizzie Powell’s moody lighting subtly evoke the dark mood of the novel without overdoing cliched gothic tropes, Campbell’s direction is uneven and the production lacks a coherent vision or consistent tone. Despite this, the cast deliver strong performances, particularly Polly Frame, who as Victoria offers a convincing portrait of a woman brought to the brink of madness by her own god complex. Victoria Elliott provides a nice counterpoint as Victoria’s conventional yet spirited sister Elizabeth and Ed Gaughan is both an imposing and pathetic presence as the Creature.

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Strong performances fail to animate a confused, gender-swapped adaptation of a literary classic