Frankenstein @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh
A tonally messy production of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic unsuccessfully pulls in two different directions at once
This new version of Frankenstein, from writer Rona Munro and director Patricia Benecke, seems confused about what sort of play it wants to be. Is it a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel from 1818, or is it a feminist celebration of female creative power? It tries to have it both ways, but the result is a tonally messy production.
The core of the play’s narrative closely follows the novel, as the monstrous creation of Victor Frankenstein (played by Ben Castle-Gibb) comes back to haunt him, with disastrous consequences. But in Munro’s reworking, Mary Shelley (Eilidh Loan) is present on stage, continually interrupting the narrative to provide her own commentary on what is unfolding. It is an interesting idea, to depict Shelley in the making of her world-famous debut novel, but unfortunately the result is a constant fracturing of the play’s dramatic cohesiveness. When Frankenstein’s loved ones are killed, we ought to share in his sorrow, but Mary Shelley is having none of it: She’s a snarky narrator, relishing in the suffering she inflicts on her characters. There’s some humour to be had in this, but her quips are shallow, failing to interrogate the story’s themes of love, hate and societal prejudice.
The cast of seven struggle to meet the demands of a plot encompassing multiple characters across various countries. Thierry Mabonga, for instance, plays not only Captain Walton (who encounters Victor Frankenstein in the Arctic) and Henry Clerval (Victor’s best friend), but also William Frankenstein, Victor’s young brother. Even after changing costume and putting on a childish voice, it’s hard to really see him as the young boy he’s supposed to be. Michael Moreland’s performance as the Monster demands an even greater stretch of the imagination: on the surface, there is nothing demonstrably monstrous about him, yet the narrative demands that the other characters react in horror to his appearance.
Nuance is thrown out of the window in favour of histrionic shouting and rushed exposition. Becky Minto’s two-tiered stage design, meanwhile, is simple but effective, whilst lighting designer Grant Anderson and composer Simon Slater tick every box in the gothic handbook, complete with claps of thunder and flashes of lightning.
Watching this production of Frankenstein feels a bit like riding a ghost train: At first it’s enjoyable, but it soon grows tiresome. When the ride comes to a stop, you’re left wondering: what was the point?