Frankenstein on stage – Northern Stage

The making of a monster – Dr Frankenstein

The year is 1831 and Victoria (as opposed to Victor) Frankenstein, unable to study in England to be a doctor, travels to Ingolstadt, where women are not only permitted to study medicine but are apparently able to store disinterred cadavers in a lab cupboard without interference. Selma Dimitrijevic’s new version for Greyscale Theatre Company and Northern Stage appears to be the first to change the gender of the central character. Frankenstein was not only remarkably written by a woman, Mary Shelley, but a very young woman at that as she was just eighteen years of age at the time. The novel’s teenage female creator apparently came up with the idea when she was pressed to come up with a story while in the company of poets Byron and Shelley, on a rainy summer holiday in Germany.

Back to life

The story is both a Gothic thriller and a cautionary tale about meddling with science and the power over life and death. Victoria refuses to be hidebound by the limited role of women offered to her as a daughter and prospective wife, and sees her important ‘work’ as potentially valuable to millions of people as she tries to raise the dead back from their eternal slumber.
The creature created by Victoria is undead rather than alive, and is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world to create havoc. Terrible hallucinatory dreams trouble Victoria throughout the play and if you don’t know the book already, these episodes can be a bit confusing.
The cast do their best with a script which seems to sometimes to just fall short of the details we are looking for to explain the scenario before us.

It’s all gone horribly wrong

Ed Gaughan is very good as the unsettling unearthly creature with his flashbacks to previous violent episodes in his former life. He sets off on his quest for acceptance and love in his isolation as a feared and rejected creature, which has no place in the world and nothing to identify with. The closest he has is a connection to Victoria who was fascinated with him until, the reality of the aberration she has created hits home.

Victoria’s Secret

Tom Piper’s excellent set is dressed with tall shelves filled with glass bottles and jars as in an old apothecary, surrounded by burnished mirrored panels and the sound design by Nick John Williams is atmospheric and suitably eery.

Bunny boiler

In its day, Frankenstein was an instant best seller and arguably launched the literary genres of both horror and science fiction. We do feel sympathy for the creature but it is hard to have any empathy with the self absorbed Victoria or the rather vacuous Elizabeth.
The questions it explores about the ethics of tampering with the natural order of things are as relevant today as ever in our age of organ transplants and genetic engineering. Frankenstein was probably the very first Zombie, and we all know how popular those are now.
The production is good but I think it needs perhaps a little more depth to both the human characters and the script for it to work as a stand alone piece. Last year, Northern Stage produced some cracking drama and this is a good start to the New Year’s offerings – I can’t wait to see what’s up next!

The modern version of Frankenstein enjoys fast food