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Frankenstein review at Sutton House, London – ‘an inventive adaptation’

Scene from Frankenstein at Sutton House, London. Photo: John Wilson
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Writer/director Katharine Armitage’s adaptation of Frankenstein – a site-specific promenade but not all that immersive production in spite of being billed as such – was born out of her frustration of the way in which rebel woman extraordinaire Mary Shelley’s female characters are idealised plot devices.

Away from the sublime landscape of Geneva, the action takes place within confines of the Frankenstein ménage in Hackney’s Tudor Sutton House, home of scientist Victor Frankenstein and his wife Elizabeth, little brother William, best friend Henry, and fellow scientist/home help Justine.

A framing device concerning a shared dream pays homage to the squatters who occupied Sutton House in the 1980s and the narrative acted out in the historic rooms involves an eclectic mixture of 19th-century and 1980s paraphernalia.

In searching for the women, Armitage interprets the Creature’s instincts of obedience and nurturing as female, longing for the unconditional love of a baby instead of a mate. The problem is that Molly Small comes across as too cunning from the beginning to be especially sympathetic.

Jennifer Tyler imbues the long-suffering sister-wife-mother Elizabeth with a goodness that avoids sentimentality and underpins the weight of her emotional labour, and Chris Dobson is a likeable grounding influence as the corduroy-wearing would-be social reformer Henry.

There are moments of real physical and emotional power by way of the fragile puppets of children and Sutton House’s layers of history pile on the gothic atmosphere but it’s the moral horrors that give this version of the Frankenstein story its primary potency, as it should be.

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Verdict
Inventive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel that would benefit from greater directorial surety
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