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Frankenstein at Royal Exchange - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83
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The stage suddenly goes dark and when the lights slowly come up, the The Creature is real.

Harry Atwell gives a compelling performance as Victor Frankenstein's monster. He conveys both the violence and anguished loneliness of a being who is the product of a grief-ridden scientist who "wants to raise the dead."

Frankenstein, Royal Exchange, Manchester, Theatre
Harry Attwell (The Creature) - Images Johan Persson


The play is a new adaptation, by April de Angelis, of Mary Shelley's 1818 Gothic novel. It is directed by Matthew Xia, who also directed the Royal Exchange Christmas show in 2015 -Into the Woods

The challenge of any stage adaptation is how to transform the prose into live drama. There is a good deal of narration and exposition in the early scenes but this is offset by breathtaking scene changes. In the theatre-in-the-round setting, the actors make exits and entrances at lightning speed - to portray different characters from the novel.

As the evening progresses, narration increasingly gives way to dialogue and confrontation.

Continuity and flow is achieved through both stage management and Mark Melville's original music and sound design. His compositions underpin the action and range from baroque, to lyrical, to discordant horror-score to ecclesiastical and back again, as the mood demands.

Frankenstein, Royal Exchange, Manchester, Theatre
Shane Zaza (Victor Frankenstein) - Images Johan Persson


The only thing lost in the frenzied action and noise was the occasional word, as the actors turned from one section of the audience to another.

In the age of the fourth industrial revolution, where artificial intelligence (AI) is science fact, issues of ethics and control are as pertinent as ever.

What if the robots and supercomputers we manufacture are capable of emotion and independent action? Films like Blade Runner picked up on the same dilemmas, 160 years after a 19-year-old Mary Shelley wrote her novel.

Frankenstein, Royal Exchange, Manchester, Theatre
Shane Zaza (Victor Frankenstein) - Images Johan Persson


A stage adaptation, however good, cannot supplant its classic source material, neither I suspect, would Matthew Xia and April de Angelis want it to.

But this stage adaptation does reanimate a book into a highly charged theatrical experience.

This is partly due to the stage effects and pyrotechnics, which engulf the space in smoke and rain or conjure flames in Victor Frankenstein's (Shane Zaza) laboratory.

The drama is most electric when The Creature and his creator are alone on stage and their battle for survival generates enough friction to light up the stage without the help of candles or fluorescent tubes.

Frankenstein , Royal Exchange, Manchester, Theatre
Shane Zaza (Victor Frankenstein) & Harry Attwell (The Creature) - Images Johan Persson


Theatre, Manchester, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley,
By Theodore Von Holst (1810-1844) (Tate Britain. Private collection, Bath.) Wikimedia Commons Public domain


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Why? Supercharged Frankenstein in brand-new adaptation
When: Until 14th April
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange Theatre St Anns Square MANCHESTER M2 7DH
Cost: From £17
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