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'Frankenstein Review - a faithful adaptation or a misinterpretation?'

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'Frankenstein Review - a faithful adaptation or a misinterpretation?'

A bold reimagining of the gothic classic, the present-day depiction of the novel is full of dramatic physicality and peculiar choreography.

Theatre company imitating the dog’s most recent adaptation, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, hit Leeds Playhouse this February. I was expecting a retelling, a modern day Frankenstein’s monster on a grand stage but rather I was met with a crossover of two tales, Shelley’s gothic novel being stitched together with the story of a young couple just having discovered they are expecting a child. But how artfully was this really done?

Scenes from the book are cleverly shown in the contemporary scenes as a Radio 4 drama, the radio on the stage regularly interrupting the couple’s conversation as the actors seamlessly morph into the characters from the novel. This adaptation is full of allegorical choreography, both Myers and Okonyia (the only actors in this two-hander) impressively switching between the casual physicality of the young couple and the extreme physical drama in their performance of Frankenstein and his monster. Myers is indeed the star of the show – the emotion she brings to both the young woman and Frankenstein’s monster is so impactful – even with the lack of a physical “monster” on stage, she truly brought the novel to life in these scenes. But, the show was not without its faults.

Though both Okonyia and Myers both gave a beautiful performance portraying the young couple, their characters in the contemporary adaptation were devoid of background or context, not even afforded names. With little to define them, their circumstances resist empathy, leaving the show with little impact at the end of their story. There was also very little nuance in the themes of the contemporary story – their scenes are full of blunt dialogue about the horrors of the world and, though they do give insight into the questions around the morality of bringing a child into the world, they are slightly clumsy; this, again, creates a lack of empathy for the couple, as the dialogue was unnatural and indelicate to the themes they touched upon. This is also done in the parallels between Frankenstein’s monster and the homeless man who skulks by the couple’s apartment building; it felt a little heavy-handed. These extremely on the nose comparisons contrast almost ironically to the slightly pretentious choreography which broke up the scenes, the meaning of which was often unclear, and which disrupted the coherence of the performance.

However, I must take my hat of to the set designer, Hayley Grindle – the minimal staging and grey and sparse set design made the couple’s scenes feel claustrophobic, almost imprisoned, especially with the visuals on the wall displaying their numbered days of the pregnancy. The visual effects, though, were nothing striking, and at times felt like a poor science museum exhibition when displaying bugs and bubbling liquids on a variety of screens on the stage.

In my opinion, the second half of the play was far more impactful than that of the first half, delving deeper into a variety of themes, such as perinatal mental health and the breakdown of the social contract in scenes with the young couple, but the end felt slightly…unfinished. I also don’t think I was alone in my uncertainty as the actors walked off stage with the sound of a baby crying in the background, unsure if it were just a pause in the show, as the play’s conclusion was ambiguous to say the least.

Overall, I would say it is indeed an impactful performance, and an unexpected creation from imitating the dog, as Frankenstein was not shot-for-stage as their previous adaptations (Macbeth, Dracula and Night of the Living Dead), and having seen their adaptation of Macbeth last year, I expected something different from Frankenstein.

Frankenstein was, in its prime, and still is today, a radical novel which still pushes boundaries 200 years after its creation – so is there much more to be done to the story? Though it was a brilliant performance and a clever link between the themes of the novel and the problems we face in the modern day, I’m not sure this adaptation was really needed, as it didn’t necessarily enhance the story, adding little, if not nothing, to the exploration of morality in creating a life, and was not the apt translation into modern day that myself and others expected.

Nevertheless, given the current discourse around the accessibility of theatre, I am always grateful when seeing shows being made affordable, especially when big shows are brought up North, and I would still recommend going to see Frankenstein and any other imitating the dog adaptations.

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