Eilidh Loan as Mary Shelley in Frankenstein – Photo by Tommy Ga Ken Wan
Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Performance Date: 02 March 2020
Star Rating: ★★★
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
There are precious few people who aren’t familiar with the infamous tale of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Adapted for stage and screen numerous times, the novel is also a staple on the school curriculum with many children studying it for their GCSE exams.
Gothic and dark, Frankenstein is the quintessential representation of the tussle between the age of romanticism and enlightenment science which drives the narrative. Shelley’s seminal novel, written in 1817 tells the story of progressive scientist Victor Frankenstein, who, after undertaking some ill-advised and unorthodox experiments in reanimation and the manufacture of life, inadvertently produces a hideous Monster. Appalled by his creation Victor flees, leaving the Monster rejected and overwhelmed with rage. The Monster becomes a torment to his creator as he tries (and fails) to find his place in a world in which he didn’t ask to live.
What makes Rona Munro’s adaptation of Frankenstein different to all that have come before it, it the incredibly innovative and clever decision to place Shelley herself at the heart of the story. Instead of watching the story of Frankenstein play out at normal, it almost becomes a play in play. With Shelly’s creative process, writer’s block, frustrations, and motivations coming to the forefront of the piece. The story itself plays out around her as the words leave her pen.
Munro has clearly taken liberties with Shelley’s perceived creative process, but history tells us that Shelly had a colourful life. Only 18 when she began writing the novel, Shelley had already experienced an exorbitant amount of loss. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, and Shelley herself suffered the loss of her prematurely born baby before she began penning the novel. It’s not hard to see then, where the darkness comes from. With metaphors aplenty around the clash between nature and nurture, this adaptation provides a very clear narrative on Shelley’s thoughts on both.
Eilidh Loan, making her professional stage debut is magnetic as Shelley. Commanding and powerful, Loan breathes authenticity and believability into the beleaguered author. Barely leaving the stage, she is commanding in her presence as she delivers Shelley’s journey. Not once does her energy wane, her enunciation at times is a little startling and a touch on the shouty side but certainly doesn’t detract from a fine performance. Loan should be incredibly proud of her performance and interpretation and is surely one to watch.
Ben Castle-Gibb gives a wonderfully tormented performance as the morally conflicted Frankenstein. The light and shade in his performance is next level as he articulates Frankenstein’s descension with poise, class and a perfect level of discomfort. He is complemented wonderfully by Michael Moreland as The Monster, who delivers a beautifully grotesque performance as the anguished humanoid.
The wider cast is also strong, although as they deliver multiple roles there isn’t quite enough differentiation between them to quite know who is supposed to be who at times. This is where the production does lose its way, the narrative becomes a little muddy which in turn affects the flow of the piece.
Becky Minto’s set and costume design are incredibly effective, adding a dark moodiness to proceedings. This is further complemented by Simon Slater and Grant Anderson’s sound and lighting design respectively. The whole piece is superbly eerie and creepy and does justice to its source material.
Frankenstein will always be an iconic and influential novel and its popularity continues to endure. Munro should be congratulated for creating a version of the story that breaks from tradition and provides a different perspective on how the characters’ motivations were developed and subsequently decided on. This innovative and fresh approach combined with Loan’s fine leading performance makes this adaptation of Frankenstein well worth a visit.
Runs Until: Saturday 7 March 2020