A thought, a story, and a monster come to life: Frankenstein on stage at Eden Court

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

  • By Cornwallace

[Unrelated Preface – skip if and as required]

It is a new year, a new decade, and a new, expanded focus for The Nettle.

Actually, I say that like it means something. I also say that like there’s a degree of solidity in the planning and clarity in the direction ahead, and that would be unfair on all involved. Us included.

At present, the plan – such as it is – is broad-brushstroke, but within that there’s the idea of world domination. Actually, less that, and more so expansion to include wider support for the array of goings on in Inverness. We want to promote and support this beautiful bastard of a place, and talk up that which goes on here. So we have started the shift on this premise. That’s kinda as far as we have got, but it is a pretty good start!

 

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Inverness fights above its weight in this respect of what there is to see and do. This is despite fucked up thoughts like Mad Hatters planning to become yet another fucking backpackers as the millionaire owner is sulking about council tax
(*Hypocrisy Alert* – The Council is fucking up a lot of things left right and centre at the moment in a desperate attempt to claw back the debt it fucked up so bad in drowning in the weight of, so maybe (most likely) Hoots does have a point.
It’s just so fucking sad that such an institution is playing games like this in order to keep sitting on their fat stacks of cash. The Council very likely are the ones stuffing up, but Hoots, please don’t go the backpackers route. It would be beyond shit. Stay a beloved institution. It’s worth more, and hopefully more money for you too! This is said as a plea/ vote for staying as Mad Hatters – take it as a positive opinion from a fan.)

Anyway, generally Inverness is a small place with much more going on that one would reasonably expect, punters just have to get out there and give it a go, especially – as the Hoots example above shows – should they want to keep the options option.

And it is in this light that the broad-brushstroke kernel of a plan is starting to germinate at Nettle HQ. And this is also a handy segue to the topic at hand – a review of a theatre play at Eden Court.

We’ve dabbled with a variety of events before, but this is hopefully the start of such things being embedded as standard practice. So no pressure on the below review…
Luckily The Nettle is not that sort of place. Remember this if you ever want to sign up and give reviewing a go. All more than welcome to ask us if you want to.

Actual Review

https://eden-court.co.uk/news/facing-victor-frankenstein

https://eden-court.co.uk/news/frankenstein-a-thrilling-new-adaption

The above are links to Eden Court and its promotion of the play whose run was for the better part of the last week.
They are obviously going to more organised and professional and such than this review, and talk of the backgrounding, history, timing, influence, etc. as to the what when why and so forth of the play.

They cover what the company planned the show to be. The Nettle, as is our way, give you how it was on a particular night, from the perspective as from being in the audience.

I’m writing this on Sunday, after seeing it mid-run. Eden Court were particularly unambiguous in their insistence that people did not film, photograph, record (and about 3 other highlighted variations, I’m sure) the performance, so the only photo we have is from shuffling in and settling down in our seats before the play.

Someone (well, Woolly Dermal, to be exact) said that to them, the play was very Escher-esque. Fair call. Let’s have a look:

So the stage construction – let’s go there first.

How they set up the space was both atmospheric and integral. They utilised the space for all it was worth, sometimes overly so.
See the trees (hopefully you can) that formed the front posts of the verandas – they milked those bastards for all they were worth. The cast were scuttling up and down those all the time. They were the only way to get between the two levels – sorry, not true, but the only way that was visible to the audience, and they were scampering up and down all play.

The thing about a proper theatre as a venue is how much kit that they have set up for setting the scene. It allows for a flexibility that meant that this basic set-up of the stage could be used for any and all settings and scenes required.
Lighting turned up and chandelier lowered down into view and we were at the glowing happy (at least at the start) home of the Frankenstein family in Geneva. The railing of the balcony alternatively becomes that of/ at the university, Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding bed chamber, or the railing of a ship in an Artic expedition.
Neon flashing tubes strung throughout and we were heart and soul into Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory, as well as the beginnings of his descent into – well, into what the writer Mary Shelley as writer and constructor of this tale decided what was to be his fate, in order to produce the book she wanted, in order to create the reaction in the audience in the reader that she wanted.

It is this point above about Mary Shelley which is crux to the understanding of this version of the play and what they were focusing on here which made it such an interesting interpretation of the classic text. I’ll get there in just a second, just want to wrap up on the stage setting.

The use of the space, the smoke machine, the lighting, and the mood evoked were excellent. I thought they overused at times the classic horror noise mechanism of the ‘jump scare’ – a loud flash of noise to frighten. However, these mostly did get the audience to jump and offered some of the most visceral scares of the play, so gonna go easy on this overuse. Maybe the use of such tropes being part of a reproduction of a classic is an important component part in itself.

Which leads to the nature of the play. As said by the character of Mary on stage, it’s horror, but mainly it is science. Science as fiction but in order for the fiction to better tell the truth.

However you want to classify it, Mary Shelly’s novel has caught the collective imagination for just over 200 years now. So much to be said about it, about her, about the context, how ground-breaking it was in a number of ways, how embedded in and part of the zeitgeist it was at the time. It is one of the most utilised metaphors, and reproduced of stories over the last couple of centuries as well.
It also happens to be one of my favourite novels, so there was plenty of incentive to see the play.

This production showed there is always something in the story – and importantly in the ideas sparked which sit behind the story. That it still has life in it to produce new – and importantly, interesting – variations on the theme.

I’m going to indulge in a guilty pleasure and stating that this production was ‘meta.’ Who doesn’t like to chuck that word out there!
The layers in it were very true to the novel, and the telling of it true also, i.e. that it jumps forwards and backwards through the timeline of the story.

There’s stuff I can describe in that, but would make the review longer, and you can get that info about the book stacks of places. This is about the production. In this play, this bouncing around of time is counterbalanced with an in-time progression of the character of Mary, writing a book.

She starts with having a great premise, and a setting, but fretting about not having a beginning to the novel. So she wheels her writing desk on stage and talks to us, as audience, for it is her audience that she is thinking about in her writing.
She says how she doesn’t want to have a standard story, such as a romance where they all walk away happy in the end. She wants it to be horror, but more science. By saying ‘science,’ please read that as the potential of it as understood 200 years ago. An e.g. of that mindset was highlighted near the start of the play, when Frankenstein’s dad encourages him to study abroad. The characters are watching a storm and he talks of the potential for science to soon be able to catch lightening. To catch electricity, the underlying forces of life and nature.

This scene set the overriding context – how the writer wanted to get into the imagination of her audience. In it, she had a patch of the story, then got writer’s block, so went back to this as the defining premise. The character of Mary also mused how she’d have to treat the characters in order to achieve this. Not pleasantly, as it turned out.

One of the elements I liked most was the character of Mary. Sometimes starting off the dialogue to have it overtaken by the characters, and being on stage but set aside, the main action being acted out while she is madly scribbling it all down, and sometimes voicing elements in tandem with the other actors as they come to her.
At other times she would cut across the story, or influence it to change it as if she decided only at that very moment in the creation process that she was herself overwhelmed by the direction of the story – which we are told is centred around the character that came in her nightmares. She would halt proceedings, sometimes pull them in other directions, sometimes let her own horror go where it would, with the risk to herself known and accepted.

They plunge into the concept, into the premise, and away we go.

This produced moments after in chat with pint, dissecting it as often happens after seeing something – anything – good and engaging, which this was. The idea of Victor Frankenstein in the middle of the meta word. Him on stage with his own creation, while also on stage with Mary Shelly who created them both.
These thoughts were bounced around with ones about the quality of the action, how engaging it was, how good the base story is that they were working off. Also how by focusing on the process of the mind of the author while writing the book and seeing the nightmare she wished to both understand and unfurl ‘come to life,’ as it were.

Which brings us to that nightmare. And what would this review be without any talk of the monster.

This is a hard one to grapple with in this production, for the answer is that the construction of it, for all the rest of the production value, was so so.
The acting was great – another thought shared over a pint later. There was the epoch of refined and cultured humanity represented by the Frankenstein family and their friends, and among this setting was the monster. For me, the character of Victor was played with great intensity and talent – seeing him consumed in his work, repulsed at what it created, going from delirium to despondency to desperate delusional deeds was seriously well done.
However, it was the character of the monster that allowed for the most intense examination of the vagaries of humanity. This was very well played out by the actor, however he wasn’t working with the best resources the play had to offer. No appendages, deformities or maladaptations of the body. The scars and all things representing his hideous ‘run away on contact’ terrifying ugliness looked more like what a bunch of lager louts would unleash on the first one of them to pass out drunk, should they have a bit of mud and a Sharpie on them to play with. Not bad, just underwhelming.

The character of Henry, Victor’s best friend, was also a bit of a disappointment. Again not bad, but the character was meant to be a stand-up sort, a positive and bright-eyed counterpoint to Victor’s decent. Instead he came across as kind of childish and simplistic. It was notable that the same actor also played the child brother William Frankenstein, and at times it was hard to tell which character was being portrayed. Apart from that though, performances were solid, and resonated well, including the other roles by that same actor, all of which meaning I was a fan of the production overall.

I seem to have a cycle of activity with theatre. I see it, think it’s great and swear I’m going to see more of it. Then I don’t and say it the next time, a year or more down the track. It’s a habit and this play reminded me that it is a bad habit.

It was between £20-£30 depending on where you were sitting, so it is reasonably expensive. But I am reminded it’s worth saving or splurging for at times, and Frankenstein was one of those times. The talent of the acting, the engagement in the moment, and the good turn on a great story made this an excellent rendition of a classic. Good on them!

*Cover photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Want to see more reviews, previews and stuff like this as it’s published. When gigs are appearing and all that?
Click the like button 😉

 

 

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