Frankenstein

Tue 27th – Sat 31st October 2015

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 22:57 on 27th Oct 2015

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Although there were some amazing moments and brilliant performances in this production of Frankenstein, there were also a few things which didn't quite work. First of all it's important to say that this isn't a straightforward retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Although some of the alterations made to the original story (or indeed to the Hammer-film-style adaptations) were hinted at in the program, 'modern dress' doesn't really cover all of the changes. This play attempts to function on its own terms, and doesn't take all its cues from the book.

The set design choices in this production, although unconventional, were very effective, particularly in the opening scene. Entering with the grungy workshop of the university student Frankenstein already on display, along with the something nasty in the bathtub, really gets you all excited to see something impressive. Some of the horror elements of the play were also unexpectedly good - including a great set up and payoff involving the Female Creature, and a few nicely confronting conflict scenes in the second act.

Parts of the play delivered. Toby Marlow as the Creature was, I thought, magnificent. His opening scene, although perhaps a couple of minutes too long, was mesmerising - even the very tips of his fingers, and every breath communicating the unease of someone discovering themselves in a body that doesn't quite work. His development as the play progressed was fascinating to watch, and even at his most eloquent, and most normal, he maintained a slight weirdness to his movements and speech which was completely appropriate for the character.

Ben Walsh as Victor Frankenstein was also very good, his performance building up to the final scene, but managed to throw himself into the character a little less. He was however a very convincing Frankenstein as a university student - he looked like that weird kid who stays in their room all the time and doesn't talk to anyone. His interactions with other characters were also often very touching. Julia Kass was great as his frustrated fiancée, as was Ian Johnston as his younger brother. They created the two most lovable characters in the piece.

There were however a few issues, with one unfortunate interruption to the performance, not at all the fault of actors or production, distracting the audience a little. Some people also seemed a little alienated by the sudden temporal transposition of the action, and couldn't quite get their heads around watching Frankenstein while listening to Radiohead or Blur. There was also a little bit of sub-par acting. Aurélien Guéroult was very wooden as Monsieur Frankenstein, sometimes sabotaging the action to the point where scenes which should have been affecting became almost comical.

Overall, Frankenstein was saved from its slight snags by Toby Marlow and Ben Walsh, who delivered a gut-wrenching ending to a play which unfortunately tended to lose the audience a little throughout the course of the action. Despite these setbacks however, it looked great, and had some great performances, which ultimately made it worth watching.

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Cameron Wallis

at 00:38 on 28th Oct 2015

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This production of ‘Frankenstein’ lacked clear-cut vision from its director. The audience, though occasionally presented with moving and unified scenes, too often felt confused by capricious and conflicted workings of Mary Shelley’s original masterpiece.

Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club’s (CUADC) production of ‘Frankenstein’ seriously suffered from a genre-identity crisis. Was it serious? Was it funny? Was it passionate? Was it light-hearted? Was it grotesque? The answer to all these questions is an ambivalent: “well, sort of!” The most hideous example of this conflict of genre was in the final scene. Finally one’s heart-strings were tugged by the terrible loneliness of the monster, who had been treated so abysmally and shunned by mankind, combined with the agonizing brokenness of a man brought to the brink of destruction by his own poor choices. And then … the music started playing, and everyone in the audience simultaneously wondered whether the sound-engineer had made a terrible mistake, in selecting the piece of music most incredibly disparate to the scene’s highly-wrought emotions!

I first address the crew, particularly: director, Rosanna Suppa; producer, Eleanor Mitchell; and set-designer, Harry Stockwell. I was intrigued and a little confused by several of the choices made in this play. Most importantly, the musical choices, I assume, were made in the hope that they would be creepy and ironic. However, far too frequently the music was so disparate to the content that it was distracting and downright bizarre – particularly in the final scene. Next, the first scene, which began so haunting and so genuinely terrifying, was at least three minutes too long. Finally, the burning of the DeLacey hovel was rather a disappointing anti-climax, particularly to us Mary Shelley fans who had anticipated an inferno mirroring the monster’s inner hell, not Toby Marlow frantically lighting a set of candles.

However, credit must be given to Stockwell for an otherwise engaging set and to Doyle and MacLennan for some very subtle costumes – I particularly enjoyed how ill-fittingly Frankenstein’s clothes fit him. Furthermore, one of the most moving scenes in the production, the destruction of the monster’s companion, featured some wonderfully gruesome directing (and indeed a lot of fake blood) which both the audience and I enjoyed greatly.

As to the cast members. Toby Marlow made a convincing monster and at times I think he truly captured the essence of Shelley’s character. However, his performance, which began so physically dynamic and raw, lacked a variety in vocal dynamics. The production was most moving when Marlow stopped shouting for a minute and we could hear the subtle varieties of his intonation. For example, in the stirring final scene, the whole audience leaned in to hear the monster’s whispered pleas to Frankenstein. If the dynamic vocal range expressed in this scene had manifested itself earlier in his performance, Marlow’s rendition may have been truly magnificent.

Meanwhile, Ben Walsh’s demented vocal performance was extremely convincing and wonderfully reflected Frankenstein’s inhumanity. However, it was in Walsh’s physical performance that he lacked variety. His countenance bearing a politely startled expression and his hands frequently confused about what they should be doing, Walsh’s physical performance was not as sterling as his vocal one.

As to the other cast members, the performances were of varying standards. A personal standout was Reade’s performance in the monster’s dream sequence, where she successfully conveyed many emotions without the use of words. The audience and I also enjoyed Young and Wilkinson’s extremely humorous performances – though the biggest laugh went unsurprisingly to Frankenstein’s Oxford jab in the second half. However, it should be noted that this comedy was also the source of much of the play’s genre-identity crisis.

In all, it is always challenging to bring-to-life (please note the poor Frankenstein humour) characters which have been so vividly painted in novels, and thus it is perhaps not the fault of the cast and crew that this working was, at times, a little painful. The fascinating themes that Shelley asked in her original novel - how monstrous is humanity? are we born with sin or taught it? how far should we go in the name of science? – are best answered by reading the book. I’m afraid that this CUADC performance does not really do Shelley’s masterpiece justice.

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