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Frankenstein Encore - Review

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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How to Create a Monster
frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch, jimmy lee miller
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When Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818, reviewers speculated with intrigue about which great author had written it. Nowhere on there list was the name of a woman, especially not Mary Shelly (then, Mary Godwin), who had come up with the idea two years previous at the young age of eighteen. One rainy summer, her friend, Lord Byron had challenged Shelly to write a ghost story. Unable to come up with anything, she was then inspired the Frankenstein Castle in Germany, and imagined a creature brought to life through reanimation by an eccentric scientist.

frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Frankenstein first appeared on stage in 1823, and has had since seen ninety stage and film adaptations. The most recent was by Slumdog Millionaire's Danny Boyle, and made its debut at the Olivier Theatre in 2011. The visionary director brought told the story from a new and refreshing angle, showing events from The Creature's point of view rather than Dr. Victor Frankenstein's. For example, in the book, The Creature relates how he was educated by an old blind man on a farm, but in the production, you get to see The Creature form a relationship with De Lacey, making it all the more tragic when his faith his betrayed.

frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Boyle also wanted to show how Frankenstein and The Creature were intrinsically bound to one another, which he achieved through a unique concept, in which the leading cast members (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jimmy Lee Miller) alternated roles between the two main characters. Learning one role is strenuous enough, but to learn two major parts is unbelievable. No wonder they shared the an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Due to unprecedented audience demand, Frankenstein has received a reprisal this Halloween, with the production being broadcast to cinemas nationwide for an encore performance. Scheduled for both the 30th October and 6th November, I jumped at the chance to see it, and booked tickets for the first screening, starring Cumberbatch as The Creature. If you want to see the second performance, it will show Miller as The Creature.

Frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

The opening scene was not how I expected. The minimalist staging of Frankenstein's laboratory had no medical table or surgical tools, but instead a large embryonic sack, from which The Creature emerged, as if being born from the womb. He tore through like a baby bird has to break its shell to escape.

Cumberbatch gave an outstanding performance, and I was entranced by the incredible control he had over his limbs. Each joint moved in isolation from one another, jittering unnaturally as if having received a lethal jolt of electricity. The first ten minutes is entirely of The Creature learning to stand. There was no music, no dialogue; just one actor on stage. It is a testament to Cumberbatch's ability that he was able to carry a scene like that and keep the audience completely engrossed through its entirety.

frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Yet at the same time, thoughts began to circle in my mind. Where is Frankenstein? Why is he not hear to see the birth of his creation? Why is he not helping this helpless creature? Eventually the scientist arrives, but his reaction is not one of awe, but one of fear and disgust. As he banishes The Creature out onto the streets, where he is almost run over by a train, my opinion of these two characters and where my loyalties like were firmly set.

The novel is a serious piece of speculative fiction, but Boyle managed to incorporate elements of humour into the play without it feeling out of place. Witty dialogue, perfect timing, and excellent delivery all played a key role in this.

frankenstein, national theatre, encore, benedict cumberbatch
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

My favourite scene was the not-so-happy reunion between The Creature and Frankenstein, in which Frankenstein reluctantly agrees to grant The Creature's wish, and create him a bride. It this out of pity? The prospect merely excites him because its a challenge. That and The Creature promised to never bother him again afterwards.

But by now, we all know the value of Frankenstein's word, and it is the scientist's inability to love that will be the undoing of them all.
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Why? Fun at the theatre
When: 6th Nov, 7pm
Where: Cinemas nationwide
Cost: Depends on cinema
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