Reviewed by Jenny Bray
‘In the beginning it was cold and dark… Then a voice said ’hello’’
Victoria Frankenstein is fascinated by science and wants to train as a doctor. Her father is a doctor. Her sister, Elizabeth, is more of a traditional woman of the era and just aspires to find herself a husband. In an era where women are not allowed to study medicine in England, Victoria manages to obtain a place at University to study it in Ingolstadt, Bavaria (however, the storyline isn’t clear that she can’t study in England so, if I hadn’t read the leaflets about it I wouldn’t have known this just from watching it).
This show was on at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre which is a modern theatre in the theatre complex in the city centre. There are plenty of parking options nearby and lots of places to eat if eating out beforehand. The local Q park at Charles Street has an agreement with the theatres to offer the first hour free if you get a ticket from a member of staff at the theatre. The Box Office desk is to the left of the entrance with welcoming staff. There is a bar and also a sweet and hot drinks counter. Ice creams are served during the interval.
At the beginning of the show Victoria Frankenstein (Polly Frame) starts giving a speech to an audience, while there is a half-covered body on a table. All is not quite as it seems at that time though as she is practicing for the future and the body is one of her family’s staff, Justine (Rachel Denning), who then gets up and talks.
Once at university she absorbs herself in her laboratory trying to discover new techniques. She is so absorbed in her work that she forgets to write home so gets a visit from Henry (Scott Turnbull) to see whether she is alright. She shows him that she can bring a rabbit back to life. He then spots a dead body in her quarters. She has obtained it from the hospital by doing the staff favours and has been experimenting on it. After Henry goes to bed, the body comes to life. However, as she is trying to work out what he can do and discovers that he cannot bleed and she isn’t sure that he feels pain, he knocks her down and runs away.
Almost halfway through, just before the interval, I got a bit confused by the storyline and wasn’t sure whether what Victoria was going through was all in her dreams, reality or in her past. There are also scenes where she is talking with Mary (Libby Davison), the housekeeper, but they are out of sequence with the current set. I think the conversations with Mary are set as a recollection of a conversation in the past but I’m a little unsure. I think these scenes were trying to incorporate more of the overall themes of the book but they didn’t entirely translate to theatre as the fringes of the storyline didn’t link closely enough.
In the second half, Victoria has been travelling but is convinced that she is being followed. She brings back the new invention of matches from Europe. Their reactions to this are brilliant. Her father simply stating to give them to Mary as she may have a use for them! Some sections seemed to have a more modern edge to them so this section was great for reminding you of the era that it is set in.
The creature makes a reappearance in the second half and is initially portrayed as evil but for the most part he is gentle and mumbles and stumbles his way around, gaining empathy from the audience.
The end is a little unexpected and sudden and I was confused by the involvement of Elizabeth (Victoria Elliott), her father (Donald McBride) and Mary in the scene beforehand.
This is a different version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In some ways, it seemed a softened version, both because of a female lead but also due to lack of goriness! The ‘monster’ in this version is quite tame and very likeable. In contrast to the original novel, Henry is both Victoria’s friend but also more Victoria’s sisters love interest. The creature is able to speak, albeit very mumbly to start with and I feel this aspect worked really well. However, all in all I felt the changes just didn’t translate quite as well as I’d hoped it would and the whole plot felt disjointed during the scenes that I found hard to follow, that didn’t seem entirely linked to the main story.
There are only seven characters in this version of Frankenstein but this worked well with the story as it was. It meant the story stayed focused on the main characters, although I felt it should have made it easier to follow than it did. Polly Frame played a very good Dr Victoria Frankenstein. I also loved Ed Gaughan’s acting of the creature. When he is recalling how each of his scars happened he switches his voice to mimic that of the perpetrator in a really effective scene. His explanation of his confused way of thinking, feeling and his other senses is also very plausible and effective. I also loved it when he tries to act ‘normal’ in front of Elizabeth.
The stage setting was quite minimal, with large gothic looking, reflective sections. These cleverly showed a different set when backlit. Props were minimal, which meant the show was focused on the acting at all times. The lighting was dark and moody, which fitted well.
I enjoyed the main plot and the storyline but was expecting more gore and gruesomeness and less confusion. I really wanted the story to work with a female lead but the rest of the storyline didn’t quite follow through. There will always be a fascination about where science can be taken when it comes to trying to bring people back to life. However, it was all a bit too nice and not gothic enough for me.
Tickets cost from £21.50 to £24 (booking fees may apply).
Dr Frankenstein is at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield from 15-25 March 2017. For more infromation or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000