Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein has been adapted into a variety of different media countless times. Manual Cinema are taking an innovative and different approach by using puppetry, live animation and video projections to infuse life into a very familiar and iconic story.
The set up of the performance initially looks haphazard and confusing. A variety of instruments can be seen on the stage along with overhead projectors, lights, video cameras and blank screens. A separate large screen hangs from the ceiling and this is where the action that occurs on the stage is projected. Throughout the performance the different members of Manual Cinema use shadow puppetry, live animation and video cameras to tell their version of Frankenstein. We begin by seeing Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and through their trip to Lake Geneva with Lord Byron we are provided the backstory surrounding the creation of the novel. Eventually, lightning strikes and the performance truly begins: Frankenstein creates his monster and a story of life and death ensues.
At times it can be difficult to know where to look. The story is presented on the large screen, but watching Manual Cinema construct the animation and and their shadow-work is exhausting to witness. They constantly move around the stage and use overhead projectors in ways that would definitely not be welcome in a school classroom.
The visual style of the show takes influence from German expressionist cinema and thoroughly conveys the gothic and dark themes of the book. However, this feels a bit too predictable and obvious. The innovative format of the show feels a little wasted on such an overtold and familiar story. If an original narrative was to be constructed – as was done in their 2017 production, Lula del Ray – the unpredictability of the techniques would better transfer to the story they are telling – leaving the audience both surprised by the narrative as well as the format. This year’s audience will have to make do with Manual Cinema’s safer bet.