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Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘ambitious but unwieldy’

Wei Wang and Federico Bonelli in Frankenstein. Photo: Andrej Uspenski
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Call the dramaturg! Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein is in dire need of a pacemaker and emergency surgery to slice away at its considerable sections of expository flab.

There’s almost no trace of revision in this revival of the choreographer’s first full-length narrative ballet, which premiered in 2016. While Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel conjures body horror with expert brevity, here the narrative impulse is sluggish (the initial domestic scene, with its happily prancing maidservants, feels interminable) and strangely rushed at key moments, such as the Creature’s first appearance.

Amid the gothic grandeur of John Macfarlane’s spectacularly designed anatomical theatre, Federico Bonelli’s Victor puts together his unholy patchwork of flesh in a jiffy, lifting limbs and organs out of a box in the same casual manner that you’d fetch a lettuce or a cucumber from the fridge crisper drawer. There’s nothing furtive, no fraternising with grave robbers: it’s just a slightly unusual night out at university for Victor, who’s motivated more by grief for his dead mother (cue the forlorn dangling of her locket) than fatal ambition.

The Creature, danced by guest artist Wei Wang from San Francisco Ballet, is a dramatic dud who looks more like a jock-strapped bald bloke with road rash (and an elegant arabesque) than the embodiment of bloodcurdling nightmare.

Though the dancers are impeccable – Laura Morera, as love-interest Elizabeth, performs with customary lyrical finesse – a strong sense of bathos hangs over proceedings, not helped by Lowell Liebermann’s mulch of a score, which is most memorable when it mimics Prokofiev.

Liam Scarlett: ‘I am a bit of a control freak’

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Verdict
Disappointingly unrevised revival of Scarlett’s ambitious but unwieldy narrative ballet
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