Manual Cinema's Frankenstein
Based on the book by Mary Shelley
Underbelly and Manual Cinema
Underbelly, Bristo Square
By this stage in Edinburgh's Festival Fringe, certain productions have invariably risen to the top of the ratings lists, their every poster adorned with starry ribbons of paper, proclaiming genius and many complimentary words. Often those words are hyperbolic, but in that rarest of cases, Manual Cinema's Frankenstein is most definitely worth the superlatives.
Manual Cinema has penned a love letter to cinema, stage and literature all in a single performance. It's a marvel of timing, artistry and performance all rolled into a combination of the oldest and newest tricks in the book. Using a projected screen and through puppetry, live acting to camera, shadow play and silhouetted actors, the onstage troupe perform a silent film style version of Mary Shelley's infamous novel. But beyond the action, there are a set of live musicians scoring the entire production on a medley of instruments, improvised and proper.
But this isn't simply a retread of a previous filmic version; this is Frankenstein by way of Mary Shelley's own grief, beginning long before the infamous ghost stories competition set by Lord Byron, with the birth of the Shelleys' first child, Clara. From there we are spun a tale of grief, loss and the love between a mother and a child, distilled into a story form by the heartbroken Mary Shelley. Considering that it is a play devoid of spoken dialogue—although a scant few lines do appear onscreen in the style of a silent film caption—the narrative is simple to follow and subtexts are richly drawn and cleverly observed through repeated actions and even the vaguely foetal look of the monster itself.
Throw into the mix a notable, but never overwhelming, steampunk aesthetic to the production combined with the soaring opulence of the McEwan Hall's cavernous dome and it's impossible not to be enthralled. This is glorious, opulent theatre and is a piece rightly being lauded across both the city and Festival. Victor Frankenstein and the others in the story might have been horrified at his monster, but Manual Cinema can be proud of their staggering creation.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan