Frankenstein Review at Darlington Hippodrome
Frankenstein by Séan Aydon
18th October 2023
As we rapidly approach the season of ghosts and ghouls then what better than a trip to Darlington Hippodrome to see a new version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by the innovative team of Tilted Wig. The staff at the Hippodrome are always very welcoming and tonight was no different. The lovely lady on box office was only too happy to help me and showed me exactly where we were sitting on a very useful map.
In this version of the Shelley classic, the action has been transported from Victorian England to World War II and at the start of the play we meet a rather cantankerous old Captain (Basienka Blake) who is sheltering from the atrocious weather in her humble hut. She is disturbed by Doctor Victoria Frankenstein (Eleanor McLoughlin) who is equally seeking shelter from the continuing storm outside. Dr Frankenstein is in some distress, having been subjected to the elements for some days without food or water. With some significant reluctance the Captain allows her to stay for one or two days and offers tea and sustenance.
Dr Frankenstein starts to tell her tragic story to the Captain before the hut very cleverly moves aside to take us back to the beginning and into the good doctor’s laboratory. It is here we meet the Doctor’s assistant, Francine (Annette Hannah), her sister, Elizabeth (Lula Marsh), her boyfriend, Henry (Dale Mathurin) and eventually the monster (Cameron Robertson.)
As the story is told retrospectively and from the point of view of Doctor Frankenstein, there is more than a little question around the voracity of the doctor’s recollection of the events as McLoughlin astutely pointed out in the fascinating Q+A session after the performance this evening.
All of the elements of Mary Shelley’s story are there to consider and the story telling from McLoughlin is nothing short of magnificent as she grapples with her own morality and those of the people with whom she interacts. McLoughlin’s almost bombastic approach to her close friends and family adds a subtle nuance which suggests that, while well-meaning in her desires, there are flaws in her character which result in her execution and her response in the aftermath of creating her creature leaving a great deal to be desired.
The set for the laboratory is very clever with a large window set at an angle and provides the lighting designer (Matt Haskins) with a wonderful canvas for bouncing some dramatic lighting at several points during the show. I was also particularly taken with the coloured lights in the specimen jars which added a different feel to the stark and limited lighting of the Captain’s hut at the start. The sound designer and composer (Eamonn O’Dwyer) has provided a haunting and effective soundscape which adds menace and foreboding at times and sometimes simply makes you jump – which is what everyone wants from a horror story. The scares have clearly been very well thought out and considered and, on the whole, work very well. I do however feel that the end of act one may have been far more effective by ending with the jump given to the audience by the monster’s reanimation into a snap blackout. Some of the transitions or elements without any dialogue dragged a little.
Without giving too much away, I would like to congratulate Fight Director (Jonathan Holby) and Movement Director (Stephen Moynihan) for some outstanding work all over seen by Director and Playwright, Séan Aydon. There are elements in this play that were greeted with shocked gasps by the audience and who were very clearly invested in the story being told. Frankenstein would not be Frankenstein without the creature which Robertson embodies very well indeed. Credit to the Playwright also for giving the Creature a voice as he does in Mary Shelley’s novel. In his notes Séan comments that he would have liked to have called the play “Monster.” I can totally understand why he did not because Frankenstein is more accessible but I so wish he had! My inner drama student was whooping and cheering at the thought.
This is a very interesting and innovative interpretation of a classic novel and shifting the action to WWII gives an additional sinister feel to the narrative. The portrayal of some of the characters is changed from the novel I remember reading, and one noticeable addition in the form of Doctor Richter (Basienka Blake) who makes her presence significantly felt early into act II.
Most people know what to expect from the story of Frankenstein and this version, as with all before it leaves the audience with the conundrum of deciding who the real monster is. I would suggest from this clever production that you can take your pick!
Frankenstein plays at Darlington Hippodrome until 21stOctober before continuing its UK tour at York Theatre Royal.
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