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Frankenstein review at Jack Studio Theatre, London – ‘interesting performances’

Christopher Tester in Frankenstein. Photo: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative Christopher Tester in Frankenstein. Photo: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative
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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (celebrating its bicentenary this year) is a messy, straggly, unapologetically raw novel that opens out like a series of Chinese boxes. Shelley became used to adapters taking liberties with it within her own lifetime.

Like Frankenstein’s creature, adaptor/director Ross McGregor’s production is a hodgepodge of elements. McGregor offers twin narratives, that of Victor Frankenstein and his creature and Shelley’s own life story: her mother Mary Wollstonecraft died giving birth to her and she grew up in the ultimate dysfunctional blended family.

Shelley’s register would be hard to imitate and McGregor modern use of language is somewhat jarring with the women’s chintzy dresses and the gothic atmosphere is patchily rendered. The big moments are rendered with flair, but the storytelling has several laboured passages and the messiness that a novel can get away with requires a certain amount of paring down on stage.

Most interesting is the use of doubling: characters rise from the dead in another form, a reminder of the trail of dead babies and suicides that followed Shelley through life, and the emphasis on the creature’s friendship with Agatha (warmly played by Zoe Dales), the blind girl who gives him language, the most powerful tool at his disposal.

Cornelia Baumann makes an inscrutable Mary, looking on at Christopher Tester’s peaky, intense Victor with horror at her own youthful imagination. Oliver Brassell is a compelling Percy Bysshe Shelley and amusing Henry Clerval, and Will Pinchin makes a superbly physical creature, desperately in need of a hug.

 

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Verdict
Interesting performances in a production requiring a tighter focus
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