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Frankenstein | New Wolsey Theatre

Tilted Wig Productions are right to market this show as 'an electrifying reimagining', as both a play on words and a very accurate description of what takes place on stage for 2 hours.

Taking such a well known (and loved) piece of literature and translating it into a stage show is a brave move to make. Fortunately, it's one that pays off, as Sean Aydon ensures the integrity of the original novel is kept intact while boldly transforming the piece to acknowledge more modern ways of looking at things. This includes new takes on nature, humanity, eugenics, and other scientific developments similar to those that drive the book to be so gripping in the first place.

Gender roles are also switched in this production, with Eleanor McLoughin leading the cast as Doctor Frankenstein. She offers a fantastic portrayal of Mary Shelley's original character 'Victor' as a fresh new mastermind named 'Victoria' who has a slight eccentric energy to accompany her subtle god complex. As lovely as it is to see a woman portraying this part, where we shine a light on the historical pattern in which the academic fields often undermine female achievement, this switch is not made a central element of the show and that is what's so respectable about it.

Nicky Bunch’s design has ensured she is not portrayed as hyper-feminine, and this is supported by the other standout cast member Lula Marsh (playing Elizabeth) who, despite having a relatively short time on stage, really holds her presence on stage. She also projects very well, as sometimes we were missing other’s lines due to the cast not having microphones. Her floral clothing matches her girly personality and creates a strong sense of difference between the two sisters.

Their costumes aren't the only juxtaposing visual aspect of the show, as the lighting design (Matt Haskins) often contradicts the action, but in a way that is appropriately disturbing, rather than a distraction. This was so well done but it felt that so much creativity had only gone into this department as an effort to make up for the omission of some important details within the plot. To give credit where it’s due, it worked! The additions to lighting and set mean we don't actually miss out on any depth to the story despite the shortened script, as they create the same atmosphere as you experience when reading the book. 

This is also facilitated by the other 3 actors who complete the diverse cast (Annette Hannah, Basienka Blake, and Dale Mathurin), as they chose to outwardly acknowledge personal traits of the characters that are typically unrepresented in this time period, such as race and disability. These would never have been portrayed positively within the science community or in the theatre back in 1940 when the show is set, so it was refreshing to see these done so well today.

It is important to note that, in this performance, the role of the creature (who is arguably the protagonist) was played by assistant stage manager Guy Dennys, who stepped in as an emergency cover for Cameron Robertson due to illness. This was a script in hand rendition but was done so confidently you really wouldn't have known otherwise! The only impact I feel this may have had was the pace of some scenes, as these sometimes seemed slower than necessary, but perhaps that was to allow for reading and processing time as the Dennys wasn't so familiar with the lines.

This meant that backstage tracks had to change, and the DSM (Marc Watkins) was also ill and so unable to call the show as usual. Once this information was revealed, it made sense as to why such a beautifully designed score (by Eamonn 0'Dwyer) was not always perfectly in sync with the other departments on stage, and some hiccups were evident with other technical elements like the smoke machine.

The structure of the script itself challenges 'gothic' criteria which felt a shame, and this is also true for some of the directorial decisions which felt lacklustre in parts, and almost as if the show was designed for tennagers studying the novel - similar to blood brothers, or TIE versions of Shakespeare plays - rather than the 200 adults that filled the auditorium. It wasn't as dark or captivating as you want it to be for a horror show at least.

At its core, this is a story of believing in yourself, challenging perceptions, and refusing to judge a book by its cover. I'd definitely recommend reading the book in advance - not because you won't understand the plot if you don't, as that likely wouldn't be an issue, however there are significant cuts and changes made and it may be more emotional or interesting if you have those comparisons to make.

Only playing at two more venues until the end of their run on 25th November, you can get tickets for the show here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Katherine Kilgour 


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