Exchange Theatre, North Shields
Mary Shelley’s classic novel has spawned no fewer than 173 film titles, which isn’t to mention songs, paintings, stage works, t-shirts, duvet covers, rubber masks and no doubt sticks of rock.
It’s generally titled gothic though unlike most gothic fiction there’s no reference to the supernatural. Shelley was only 18 when she wrote it (the idea came in a dream after she, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron struck a wager each to write a ghost story).
Interpretations as to the novel’s true meaning are manifold and who’s to say which one is correct? My own sneaky feeling is that Victor Frankenstein represents the male of the species’ desperate desire to experience that one thing that is always beyond them—giving birth. Though it’s worth remembering that by this age Mary Shelley already had bitter experience of a stillbirth.
John Seymour’s version for Timeworks Theatre, the new-kids-on-the-block in the North East, takes an unusual approach. Lucy Curry plays Mary Shelley and her discourses with her own ‘creation’ of Frankenstein (Arthur Thorpe) take place during her writing of the novel; just as he brings into the world his own creature / monster / being (take your pick).
Occasionally, the scientist appeals to the author against the novel’s direction but, just as he is playing God in the book, so too is she playing God, as does any novelist in creating a fictional universe. And she appears to display an amused detachment both in refusing his requests, also at the cruelty, death and conflict her work produces.
Chris Iddon is the creature who true to the novel speaks articulately, as against the many Hollywood Frankenstein grunters, and indeed much of the text is taken directly from the book, which gives that slightly stilted feel 19th century novels have.
The director, with a few neat visual touches, is Sarah Seymour with a simple (uncredited) stage set. Costumes are by Susan Tetchner.
The play’s intriguing device allows it to toss around, from various vantage points, its philosophical ideas on the whole concept of humankind interfering with nature.
We are let down somewhat by the lack of energy from Thorpe’s eponymous character. Frankenstein begins the play in a forlorn state of tortured angst and that’s more or less where he stays, head partly downcast. A man about to challenge the laws of the universe could be excused some manic behaviour, from ecstasy to total despair, but the character’s semi-inertia sucks the production of energy. It needs more electricity.
Lucy Curry is called upon (often fleetingly) to play various other characters (the main one being Frankenstein’s wife). At times, there is too little to distinguish between each of them, either in depiction or visually. This can cause confusion and a fourth actor would be a bonus.
Chris Iddon’s creature gives the most rounded performance, possibly because he is the most animated, and his verbal clashes with the novelist at the end give us a dramatic frisson which makes us wish the two had engaged this way earlier.
The production is on a North East tour and the Washington-based company (this is its second production) thus far operates without a penny of subsidy. Quite a feat and I wish them well. It would be interesting to see what they could produce with the luxury of some small financial support.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer