The National Theatre in the Olivier
“Over-produced,” I muttered when I saw the NT Live relay of Frankenstein. I was thinking of the rain, the boat, the train, I suppose.
This week in the Olivier it was an entirely different experience. The vastness of the open stage kept everything in perspective, and though it remains true that it could be staged much more simply, Danny Boyle's production [and of course Nick Dear's take on Mary Shelley's story] was a memorable experience.
The great bell, the pod, or cocoon, from which Johnny Lee Miller's Creature is born [Shelley is vague on this...] and the dense canopy of vintage electric light-bulbs, almost organic in effect, were all brilliant pieces of stagecraft. As was the train, with its twin shadows.
The two central performances [famously alternated, like Olivier and Gielgud as Romeo and Mercutio] were searingly strong. Miller discovering his naked body, and later his voice, Benedict Cumberbatch realising what he has done, and the inevitable consequences of playing God. A second hearing revealed richness in the text, and potent echoes of literature, theology and political philosophy. Paradise Lost, of course, and original sin, with the “Monster” tasting Satan's bile. But also shades of Prospero in Karl Johnson's wonderful de Lacey – exiled from his library, but permitted to keep his books. The Creature his Caliban - “you taught me how to curse ...”
“You and I, we are one,” Frankenstein realises, alone with his creation in the waste of frost and snow. Now it is the Creator who assumes the foetal position, as the tragedy reaches, not an ending, but a conclusion of sorts. Though ironically, it is Frankenstein Senior [a towering performance from George Harris] who asks “What have I brought into the world ?”