Frankenstein (Richmond Theatre)

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.

Eilidh Loan as Mary Shelley
Eilidh Loan as Mary Shelley

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.

Michael Moreland as the monster
Michael Moreland as the monster

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.

Set design for Frankenstein

Frankenstein continues at Richmond Theatre until 23 November. Photo credits Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Harold Pinter Theatre)

The celebrated 1990s novel by Louis de Bernieres has already been adapted for the screen and now comes to the stage and the West End.

A complex and muddled love story is brought to life in this ambitious adaptation by Rona Munro, directed by Melly Still. Adding some traditional Greek vocalisations, the titular mandolin (and imagined orchestrations) and the odd Italian operatic aria, this flirts with being a musical but retains its ponderous dialogue and scene-setting from the source material.

Joseph Long as Dr Iannis

For much of the first half, Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is on the sidelines, watching the story unfold in Cephalonia before his character joins in. Pelagia (Madison Clare), the educated daughter of the local doctor, falls for the physical charms of local soldier Mandras (Ashley Gayle) and they are betrothed on the eve of war despite their clear unsuitability.

Meanwhile, Italian sergeant Carlo (Ryan Donaldson) falls in love with sensitive comrade Francesco (Fred Fergus) as they bond on the battlefield. Carlo’s strength and loyalty becomes key to the fate of his Captain in act two.

Madison Clare and Alex Mugnaioni as Pelagia and Captain Correlli

With an innovative use of a set which suggests a range of locations, and projections which range from describing the island to providing a wash of blood at times of conflict, this production helps move a ponderous piece of theatre together.

It may be hard to care for the pompous musical Captain and the haughty Greek girl who spurns, then loves him, but with characters on the periphery to help like Carlo, the idealistic doctor (Joseph Long), the tough mother of Mandras (Eve Polycarpou), and the family’s goat and pine marten (Luisa Guerreiro and Elizabeth Mary Williams, both gifted and inventive physical theatre and circus performers), their story has a solid base.

Alex Mugnaioni and Elizabeth Mary Williams as Captain Corelli and the pine marten

Less powerful are the politics of war and the interminable battle scenes, although Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’s sound design evokes the tension and danger of conflict effectively.

A lengthy show at 2 hr 40, this probably does more justice to the book than the film, but a prior primer about the Second World War, the partisans, and the fate of Cephalonia (shown to become a tourist trap by the time two generations have grown) may be in order to avoid confusion.

Set design by Mayou Trikerioti

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin continues at the Harold Pinter Theatre until the end of August. Photo credits Marc Brenner.