From the outset, Rona Munro’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein proves itself as a punchy and evocative show, perfect for the run up to Halloween.
Eilidh Loan as Mary Shelley is a striking, strong and unwavering presence, combining frenetic energy with sassy quips and cutting ambition. She is a constant on stage and is stunning in the complexity and enduring nature of her performance. Loan’s character is what sets this show aside from other adaptations. It makes the tale seem like a story in the making and adding a sense of the unknown with a series of revelations, developments and changes being uncovered in the moment, ultimately leading to the familiar story the audience know and love.
The staging is stark and striking. White platforms and empty windows with painted white trees rising through the harsh boxes of the rostrum create a sense of nature as a pervasive, unavoidable force and adds a wildness to the narrative. This set is used extremely well, particularly as the actors clamber up the trees which act as crude stairs, giving a primal edge to the action.
The unbroken pallor of the set also creates a sense of the unwritten; the background is a canvas for the characters and Mary to mould, inhabit and breathe life into. The monochrome costumes contrasted by Shelley’s red detailing are a further clever touch that help create visual contrast and a sense of Gothic tragedy. This is most impressive during the scene on Mont Blanc the stage is lit with an eerie mystical purple, the echoing growling effects used on the monster’s voice highlighting the sublime terror and isolation of the pair as they face each other and their own desolation.
The horror is palpable and the tension created is sustained throughout. Punctuated by brief jump-scares from thunder, lightning and screaming, a frightening but ultimately watchable show is crafted. The scares are never too much and the emphasis is on creating a well rounded and evocative story. This is clever as it delivers elements of horror without the audience cowering behind their hands or fearing and anticipating the next loud noise.
The murders in particular are well staged and thought out, with bright lights and a triumphant terrible outline of the monster or strobing lights as he carries out a slow motion strike providing a real sense of fear and danger without being overtly, gratuitously gruesome.
Dr Frankenstein, played by Ben Castle Gibb and his monster, portrayed by Michael Moreland, are brilliantly matched and the staging along with their performances make for a truly sympathetic and challenging portrayal. The physical and emotional journeys and terror that they entwine each other in are captivating and dramatically charged. With such difficult characters and such a challenging and strange dynamic the duo are perfect, surprising and animalistic. Watching Gibb slip into madness and Moreland rise as a murderous, powerful but wretchedly lonely being is utterly compelling theatre.
This rendition of Frankenstein shows how Mary Shelley’s tale can still pack a powerful punch as a horror story but also as a piece of theatre. This excellently acted and creatively staged production is a truly frightening and enjoyable exploration of a classic novel.