February 1 is the anniversary of Mary Shelley’s death in 1851 so it seemed a fitting night to go and see a new production of Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station.
Having written a novel myself about the strange and secretive lives of the Shelleys and the peculiar genesis of that extraordinary book I was really looking forward to Wild Goose Theatre‘s adaption. I was not disappointed.
Written and directed by Billy Morton read about it here, I was delighted that he’s preserved the framing device Shelley employs in the book, which is almost always cut from stage and screen versions.
In the far north, Captain Robert Walton is on a voyage through the ice to the Pole, hoping to discover new and hitherto ‘secret’ knowledge (the parallels are deliberate), when the ship is hailed by a man in a desperate half-dead state. It is Victor Frankenstein.
How Frankenstein came to such a terrible pass is then unfolded to Walton (played by Morton himself), just as it is in the book, and the whole adaptation is remarkably, and I think, admirably faithful to Mary Shelley’s text, while being presented in a very modern and inventive way. No mean feat.
“It was a sell-out last night and deserved to be”
Frankenstein is one of the most enduring novels of the 19th century – arguably the first work of science fiction and the source of a terrifying and very contemporary myth.
The word ‘monster’ derives from the Latin monstrum, or ‘warning’, and there are certainly some terrible warnings in this story – not just the unforeseen consequences of overweening human ambition, but the dangers of love denied. When Frankenstein repulses the creature made by his own hands it’s the Monster we feel for, not the man.
Maximum use is made of the small space and small cast, with the sailors on-board ship becoming, by turns, Victor’s family, professors, servants, coachmen and sailors again. It brought home to me how much travelling there is in the original novel, Wild Goose Theatre cleverly represented this movement by train, boat and carriage.
I also loved the visual references to Friedrich’s iconic painting ‘The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ (also reproduced in the programme).
It was an impressive piece of ensemble acting by the whole cast, with stand-out performances by Craig Finlay (Frankenstein) and Edward Blagrove (the Monster), some very touching moments by Grace Olusola (as Elizabeth), and nifty accent work all round, especially by Peter Todd and Beth Burns.
If I have any quibbles at all, it would be that the moment of the Monster’s creation could have been more impactful, and the ending diverged markedly from the novel, but as I say just quibbles.
It was a sell-out last night and deserved to be. Moving, funny and above all, thought-provoking. Go see.
Lynn Shepherd (the author of The Frankenstein Monster)
Frankenstein is at OFS until Sunday February 5 (+2pm on Sat & Sun). Book at https://oldfirestation.org.uk/whats-on/frankenstein/