As the audience shuffles into position in the slightly claustrophobic Wine Bar venue at Teviot’s Gilded Balloon, Victor Frankenstein paces slowly back and forth on stage, mumbling occasionally to himself and jotting down the odd note in a pad. This low-key introduction to Mary Shelley’s classic work of fiction will be the most understated piece of theatre to occur in the coming hour, with the pace quickly reaching breakneck speed and not letting up until the final curtain.
The impossibility of condensing a complex, nuanced and momentous novel which pushes the 300-page mark into an hour-long show quickly becomes apparent, despite the best efforts of the cast and crew. The use of a constantly evolving projection onto the scant backdrop is effective in changing scenes quickly, and Susannah Cavill has clearly done her utmost to cherry-pick the most important episodes from the book in order to convey this epic of the gothic horror genre.
Unfortunately, it never really comes close to hitting its mark. We are introduced to the monster within two minutes; he has learned to speak within 10; he’s committed his first atrocity within 20. While such flashpoints in the storyline are important, character development is arguably more so – and there’s simply no room for that at all here. This glaring absence is brought into sharp focus by the frantic and frenetic delivery of the dialogue, as well; sometimes, a pregnant pause gives birth to more drama than all the murders and betrayals in the world. Indeed, the play’s most successful scene (Elizabeth’s final soliloquy) is the most powerful because of its measured, unhurried pace.
The casting of the two main roles is solid and it’s easy to see why this team gave such an accomplished performance in Of Mice and Men. However, as well as facing time constraints, the Canny Creatures outfit have clearly also suffered from a dearth of actors, forcing some individuals to play more than one role. While this can work in a more gradually-building play, here the rapid unfolding of events simply makes such doubling up confusing, especially when one actor is playing characters of different genders. In a similar vein, the appearance of Justine’s ghost could have potentially had a huge impact – if we’d been introduced to her character prior to her death.
Similarly bewildering is the play’s sudden finale. If the harum-scarum affair has resembled a car hurtling along a motorway at reckless pace, it’s brought to a close with an abrupt screech of the brakes. Perhaps such an exhausting and disorientating effect was the intended goal of the production team (consuming the novel certainly leaves the reader emotionally drained), but unfortunately the execution of the piece doesn’t come near to its ambition.