EFR - Reviews of Frankenstein

Frankenstein

Sat 6th – Sun 14th August 2011

reviews

Rachel Lovibond

at 09:00 on 10th Aug 2011

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Performed in a small, not easily accessible and half-hidden theatre space under the streets of Edinburgh, ExADUS’ production of Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was suitably dark and unnerving from the outset. The focus of this production shifted between the character of Mary Shelley’s narration of her own life and of excerpts from her novel, ‘Frankenstein’. As she narrated, Rachel Lissaman (acting Shelley) stood in blackness, holding a torch to her face in a manner indicative of a child telling horror stories. Shelley compares her own struggle to be recognized within the literary context in which she was writing with the struggle of Frankenstein’s monster to be recognized for his man-like rather than his monstrous attributes.

It is difficult to render a piece of theatre as truly terrifying as a film has potential to be, but the first movements of Frankenstein’s monster caused the entire audience to catch their breath. Whilst the use of lighting was excellent in maintaining an eerie atmosphere, the terror achieved in the first moments was not sustained throughout and some of the supposedly chilling moments were more hammy than horrifying. This was, for the most part, due to over-acting, excessively fake laughter and screams; although Keir Watson was excellent at maintaining a subtle balance between man and monster and allowing a real human tenderness to the development of his character. In fact, Watson’s superior standard of acting to that of Nick Julian (Frankenstein) allowed his character a more palpably human feel than its creator.

It was a shame that there wasn’t a slightly larger cast, as many actors played two or more roles without costume change or distinctive indication of their altered character status, leading to several points of confusion within the plot. Regrettably, the character of Justine/Irish woman was required to wear the same costume, including birds’ nest-like wig, for both of her roles, rendering her two characters visually indistinguishable.

Overall, the performance was enjoyable, even if not outstanding. The cast and crew managed to create a lurking unease throughout and the arrival of several characters from behind the audience had a destabilizing effect, causing that on-edge feel which is mandatory to the success of a good horror story.

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Fen Greatley

at 11:39 on 10th Aug 2011

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Alright, hands up whoever hasn't actually read Frankenstein. I confess, it has slipped by my attention; it's probably propping up a coffee table in my room somewhere. Like most people, I imagined Frankenstein as the creature itself (despite knowing the contrary), green, zombie-like and complete with bolted neck. Admittedly, I had some knowledge of Shelley.

ExADUS' adaptation, written by Julie Norley and Nick Julian, is actually emotionally charged and politically incisive. For one thing, it's an interesting perspective that we share: Shelley herself as an omniscient narrator, the action flitting between real-time retrospective insight from the authoress and scenes from the novel. But far from simply retelling a classic tale that sits alongside Stoker's Dracula, petulantly sticking out its tongue, ExADUS seizes it by the reins and foregrounds human emotions of jealousy, lust and sheer longing, along with uncomfortable depictions of the treatment of women and outcasts (the Creature is alarmingly human in everything but appearance).

My problem is the comprehensibility of the show, which is poor. This production is unforgiving and threatens to leave even the most enthusiastic audience member behind. For a long time I couldn't work out who was who, especially given the lack of costume changes. Were we seeing events in the novel, or in Shelley's life? Was that her father or her husband? Or someone else entirely? Shelley's appearance in the same make-up as the eventual creature was left unexplained – when the wrathful but pained Frankenstein's Monster later demands a mate, we suspect that she may somehow have engineered events to style herself into such a provision (either as a character in the novel, or metaphorically in 'real [authorial] life'). See the confusion?

The choice of venue for this is superb, the faint dripping unsettling and the cold damp hanging in the air, besides lack of any natural light. Only the regular beeping of lorries rehearsing and building work going on do anything to shatter the illusion. Nor can I fault the fantastic commitment from the actors to grappling with archaic language (which they do marvellously) and imparting their terrifying tale to us. Acting was so enthusiastic as to border on hammy pantomime, particularly from Julian.

The special effects were laudable and I was actually mildly scared by the sickening cracks of pilfered limbs for fodder. Integral to the whole experience was the use of light, restricted entirely to strategically pointed torches used in different ways, even to create realistic fire.

Rachel Lissaman turns in a commenable performance as Shelley, justifiably embittered but somehow worryingly appreciative of the grotesque events unfolding before her. The rest of the cast is believable in context but little more than a tool for Lissaman. A slightly slower and more tortured deliverance of lines from the Creature wouldn't go amiss.

In all, this isn't without merit and, if you're forwards-backwards au fait with Shelley's original text, then this probably gains another star for you.

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