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Frankenstein

Mary Shelley, adapted by Stephen Edwards
Derby Playhouse
(2004)

Frankenstein production shot

Boris Karloff and Hollywood have a lot to answer for. The traditional movie monster, the lumbering, ungainly giant with a bolt through his neck, is nothing like the creature brought to life in the pages of Mary Shelley's masterpiece. So any production today must first of all dispel an audience's preconceived notions about the genetically engineered thing and give us a credible alternative.

Stephen Edwards and director Uzma Hameed aim to present the Creature as intelligent, eloquent and inquisitive about himself and his creator. However, in this critic's opinion they've failed; the Creature's search for his identity and place in the world are rarely brought to the surface until right at the end - after the death of Victor Frankenstein.

Alun Raglan's creature is more of an unkempt, dishevelled scruff than a frightening, grotesque monster. This is no fault of the actor who gives a fine performance within the confines of the role.

The first time we see the Creature he is shaking uncontrollably when electricity courses through his body to bring him to life. Once he is on his feet he staggers about like a new-born calf and his breathing is laboured like a wheezing asthmatic.

However, you feel little sympathy for the Creature. The only time he evokes pity is when he tells Frankenstein: "You gave me these emotions but you didn't teach me how to use them." Apart from that, you can never forget that the Creature has killed a young boy and also been responsible for the death of another member of Victor's household.

There's also an impressive performance from Ferdy Roberts. His Victor Frankenstein is more a left-wing political activist than a mad professor. His quest for knowledge and medical progress lead him to sacrifice everything; his obsession robs him of reason until he is able to warn other people to "value life before ambition".

But whenever the production appears to be rising in quality, there's always something to reduce its effectiveness. The most disappointing scenes for me are those in Frankenstein's laboratory. There are more lightning flashes, thunderclaps and dry ice than you can shake a magic wand at; there are clichéd slow-motion sequences when Victor is applying heart massage to a dying colleague; comical sound effects of a saw can be heard when Frankenstein is hacking at body parts; and he fastens the Creature's head on with pop rivets! I began to feel it was becoming too silly when Frankenstein tossed away an old brain down the stairs.

Staging Frankenstein today is particularly topical because Victor Frankenstein's dilemma of whether to create life in the hope of eradicating diseases is mirrored in the current controversy over whether producing designer babies and cloning animals should be admissible. But this production comes out like an experiment gone wrong: it's more amusing than chilling and it has too much froth. The audience laughed out loud on several occasions - it's difficult to know whether that's what the writer and director intended.

The adaptation has more of an identity problem than the Creature.

"Frankenstein" runs until October 30th

Reviewer: Steve Orme