The most recent stop of the UK tour of this new adaptation was in Richmond last night. Rona Munro has adapted Mary Shelley’s novel and put the teenage writer front and centre, adding a constant commentary on the story as we see it and even interacting with her own characters.
It’s an interesting conceit which attempts to bring the author and her own imagination back into the Frankenstein legend. Whether it quite comes off is debatable, but it gives a new take to what is by now a very familiar story, and the topic of many years of horror films: the most famous being the series with a shuffling monster in the shape of Boris Karloff.
We’re on a ship in the Arctic at the start of the show, and a hysterical Victor Frankenstein (an excellent debut from Ben Castle-Gibb) is being rescued. His trauma isn’t fully understood, yet, but he is searching for someone (or something) that terrifies him.
Enter Mary Shelley. She’s a teenager, she’s sarcastic and manipulative, and she goads her characters into behaving the way her horror story demands, with throwaway asides throughout. She’s petulant and opinionated, and it feels as if a modern mind has been transplanted into this Victorian woman, out of kilter with the times.
She’s there when Victor accepts a course of study with a progressive Professor, and when he brings his grotesque Creature to life. She’s there in the white-grey set of platforms, ladders, caves and climbing steps, watching his family dynamics.
This is a horror story, a caution about interfering with the natural order of things. It has, as the book does, a sympathetic and intelligent monster who first seeks love and understanding, then turns on his creator (addressed in a succession of chilling scenes where they meet as “Father”), and starts to kill those he holds most dear.
Shelley’s novel is faithfully presented, and the set (by Becky Minto) and lighting, with added fog and chills, adds to the unease – but I found the story somewhat rushed and the author’s participation muddled at times. I understood Munro’s attempts to bring modern feminism into the narrative, and the depiction of a writer overcome by her own nightmares, but it didn’t quite gel.
A powerful finish, though, with a Creature stage forward and centre as Shelley herself takes on the mantle of all-powerful creator and inventor.
Frankenstein continues at Richmond Theatre until 23 November. Photo credits Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.