Review by David Grybowski
You would have to be brain-dead to not have seen the handmade humanoid in some media form or another. Mary Shelley wrote the short story – which became her novel – to pass the time on some dark and stormy nights in Switzerland in the company of holiday makers that included her lover, and Lord Byron.
Director Kerrin White claims to have read the novel several times and says that the play is far more true to the book than the 1931 Boris Karloff movie that most older people are familiar with. So forget the hunchback, the criminal brain conundrum and all that electricity. Also delete Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein black comedy starring Gene Wilder from 1974. English playwright Nick Dear’s adaptation was first produced by the Royal National Theatre in 2011 and White is proud to never have seen that. So the design of White’s production has blossomed from his theatrical brain without that encumbrance.
Dear imbues the script with a modern vernacular that is most amusing against the pre-Victorian anachronisms. The monster is abandoned by its creator rather flippantly and his journey of failed and frustrated personal growth becomes another version of one of the world’s greatest stories – the son searching for the father, just like in Star Wars. Along the way, the thought-provoking questions the monster asks of the society he find himself in, and the violent reactions towards him, suggested the white/Aboriginal cultural gulf of perpetual misunderstanding, but I may have been reading too much into it.
And the star of the show is…Steve Parker! I was fortunate to see Parker’s Captain Kirk in a Star Trek spoof back in 2006, where he displayed virulent audacity and comedic virtuosity. Here his corpulent monster (often asking for food, of course) is physically powerful and erratically dangerous as he tries to subdue a brutishness caused by rejection, with the liberal arts lessons received from a blind benefactor; he is manic, curious, unpredictable and bloody watchable. Bravo! Empathy for the monster fades, though, in this play where the Rep has broken new ground in nudity, sex and violence (quelle horreur!).
Patrick Clements’s Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the creature, has a very complex personae populated with Asbergian agendas, that is foiled by his fiance’s fetching simplicity (played with consistency by Rosie Williams). “If you want to create life, here I am!” she says. Of great interest is the psychological battle between creator/father and son, which might also be happening this very moment in your household. You would never guess the ending – every parent’s nightmare.
The rather filmic style of the play presents challenges for the stage and budget, which Kerrin White’s design copes with most the time, but not always. A few scene changes were off putting with all the commotion. Highlights, though, were the opening tableau (shocking!) and an ethereal vignette where young William Frankenstein (played beautifully by child actor Charlie Zorkovic) appears out of nowhere to torment Victor in a dream scene. White also utilised moving image backdrops to extend mood or interpretation.
Director Kerrin White has skillfully stitched together and breathed life into his creature. Go for the philosophical questions that are thrown up, and for the fascinating monster Parker provides.
PS White is working his way through the monster catalogue, having directed Dracula in 2014. So I guess the next monster show will be about Trump?