Amy H. Sturgis (eldritchhobbit) wrote,
Amy H. Sturgis

  • Music:

Why can I not be who I am? Why does humanity detest me?

Even after revisiting the novel and reading Nick Dear's play, I was unprepared for the impact of seeing National Theatre Live's Frankenstein.

It's not a perfect script by any means, but what it does right, it does exceptionally well. And the adaptation to stage was marvelous.

All the praise I'd read about Benedict Cumberbatch's work - his amazing physicality, his stunning use of his voice, and his nuanced portrayal of the Creature's development of his natural rationality and soul - failed to do justice to his brilliant performance. It really was remarkable. I could fill up this entire post simply with words of appreciation for how beautifully he comprehended and in turn communicated the Creature's plight.

Jonny Lee Miller was quite good (if a little hoarse) as Victor Frankenstein. The dual/contrasting nature of the two lead characters was best underscored by the wholly different ways in which Victor and the Creature interacted with Elizabeth. Miller captured Victor's stilted, uncomfortable, unnaturally closed posture with her perfectly, and thus he brought great power to Victor's revelation at the end that he, unlike his Creature, didn't know what love was. The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Miller worked very well.

I noticed only a few changes between the published script version and the adaptation as performed. Victor's last words to Elizabeth on their wedding night changed from "I will try to love you, Elizabeth" to "I do love you, Elizabeth," although Miller's delivery (uncertain, as if he was trying to convince himself) made it clear that the original meaning remained. Also, the Creature's comment after the deeply poignant rape/murder scene changed from the rather weak "That was good" to the far more wrenching "I am a man"; not only had the Creature experienced sex, but he had lied, brutalized, stolen, and killed - in short, he was like other men now.

I found the Creature's scene with Elizabeth, in which he regretfully (lips trembling and eyes filling with tears) broke his word that he wouldn't hurt her, in mimicry of how Victor broke his word by destroying the Creature's mate, to be one of the very best in the play. (It's very telling that the Creature killed Elizabeth cleanly and quickly - humanely? - with a twist of her neck, whereas Victor butchered the Creature's would-be Bride and left her in bloody pieces.) Other stand-out scenes for me included the Creature's debates about original sin, knowledge, and his own poverty with his educator, the blind man De Lacey; the first confrontation between the Creature and Victor, in which the Creature requested a companion ("I am capable of logic. I do not think what I ask is immoderate?"); and the final scene between the two ("I would have loved you with all my heart. My poor creator.").

Yes, the play left out aspects of the novel (most notably, Henry Clerval). Yes, not all of the performances quite measured up to the high bar raised by the two leads. Yes, some aspects of the storytelling might have seemed disjointed to those unfamiliar with the literature. *shrugs* None of these issues diminished my enjoyment.

I was particularly impressed with the way the play handled the question of original sin (it's clear that the Creature is "born" innocent, with an innate desire to be good, and only learns evil from humans) and considered the Frankenstein/Creature, God/Creation relationship as one quite possibly of bad, even "unnatural" parenting (using Milton's Paradise Lost, as Shelley did, to great effect). The masterful and imaginative performances delivered on these ideas in the most moving of ways.

This was touted as the work that would restore the Creature's eloquent and agonized voice, and it delivers. I can't help but think Mary Shelley would be pleased.


Parting miscellany:
* There's a terrific gallery of more than 90 pictures of the play here.
* I bought the soundtrack. It's brilliant.

Victor: But this is remarkable! You are educated! And you have memory!
The Creature: Yes, I use it to remember being hunted like a rat, running from human places, finding refuge in the woods. I use it to remember being beaten and whipped. And I was good, I wanted to be good!

- Nick Dear's Frankenstein, based on a novel by Mary Shelley
Tags: frankenstein, mary shelley, sf, sherlock

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