Review: Frankenstein at Leeds Playhouse

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (first anonymously published in 1818) is lauded as the first science-fiction novel – I was very much looking forward to this production of Frankenstein by Imitating the Dog theatre company.

Even if you have never read the novel, you will be aware of the themes and components of the story – it explores the boundaries between life and death, the responsibility of the creator and the ferocious and alluring qualities of the natural world. The novel asks the big question – what does it mean to be human? It’s remarkable that Mary Shelley was just 19 years old when she penned the future classic.

I had been lucky enough to see the company’s production of Dracula: The Untold Story, a previous collaboration between Imitating the Dog and Leeds Playhouse. I had been so impressed by the fusion of live action and technology to present the story and was hoping this production would be in a similar vein.

The stage set was very minimal and everything from bed to furniture was grey and sparse. The set doubled as the bedroom of a young couple, who are expecting a baby and are tussling with the responsibilities and fears this brings with it; and also a cabin on board the ship where Robert Walton hears Victor Frankenstein’s tragic story unfold.

It was clever to link the anxieties and questions on the morality of bringing a baby into a world that can seem frightening and where the future can appear to be bleak.  The links between the two worlds separated by space and time but united in the theme of bringing new life into the world was cleverly employed. I found the sudden switches between the worlds helped ratchet up the tension that built and built throughout the performance.

The cast of two (Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia) were outstanding. The choreography was spectacular – it must have taken months of rehearsal to achieve the fluidity and trust the pair had in each other. Despite the lack of the ‘monster’, there were moments when the actors bodies combined to represent him and this was very arresting.

There was less live camera action in this production than their previous plays but the use of visual effects and sound was still very impressive. Through the clever use of technology the audience was transported back and forth between a small bedroom in a bedsit in a city and a cabin in a ship during a storm.

I would thoroughly recommend going to experience this production. The only criticism I would make is that the very end didn’t feel clearly defined for me. The play has quite a short running time and when the play came to it’s conclusion it felt like the whole audience were with me, in that we weren’t sure if it had ended, if it was a pause or an intermission.

Frankenstein the novel was almost an immediate success and it’s first stage adaptation took place five years after its publication. A thirteen minute silent film arrived in 1910 – there have been numerous versions in many genres since then, proving the continued relevance of the novel and the huge questions it asks – why are we here? How do we move forward in the world? What is our place? This production makes a powerful and enthralling addition to the canon of work inspired by the novel.

Frankenstein runs at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 24 February 2024.  Full details and tickets at: leedsplayhouse.org.uk/event/frankenstein

 

This post was written by reader Hazel Millichamp in return for two free tickets, as part of South Leeds Goes To The Playhouse.

Photo: Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyiain Frankenstein.  Credit: Ed Waring

 

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