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“Frankenstein” Comes to Barclay

In honor of the 50-year anniversary of Great Britain’s National Theatre, movie theaters worldwide are presenting encore presentations of select performances from National Theatre Live’s broad repertoire, such as Danny Boyle’s 2011 “Frankenstein” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller as his creation. Very fittingly, this stage adaption of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel was screened on Oct. 31 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre with sold-out seats and a rapt audience.

Courtesy of Catherline Ashmore
Courtesy of Catherline Ashmore

Broadcasted in high definition, it was as if the play was actually being performed in front of us. The production was so well crafted that it brought the audience into its dark, gloomy world. A stylized and simplified set represented the changing moods and scenes without being overwrought and distracting. The lighting was mainly controlled by a huge collection of light bulbs that hung over the stage and varied in intensity as demanded, sometimes flashing for a blinding moment or slowly dimming into a darker tone. In combination with the mood, the music was perfectly set to match the sentiment of each scene, ranging from soft guitar strumming to frightening steam punk-style rhythms.

Unlike the novel, the play follows the monster’s point of view, beginning with a womb-like pulsing of warm light and heartbeats as he is “born.” Miller’s acting was phenomenal as he portrayed a grown man crippled by his physical and mental impediments, after being revived from the dead. His body language and altered speech were expressive and evolved as the monster learned from the world. At the same time, Cumberbatch, as the tortured genius Frankenstein, performed brilliantly, conveying the total ignorance his character has in regards to his responsibilities and the implications of what he has created.

When this production was onstage in 2011, Cumberbatch and Miller would actually switch between the roles of creator and creature, alternating every other night.  This enabled both actors to thoroughly understand the way their characters are connected and exist almost as two sides of the same person. For this, they both won the 2012 Olivier Award for Best Actor.

Quite different from the popular movie version of “Frankenstein,” Boyle pays respect to the monster’s intellect and voice, which are present in Shelley’s novel. Along with the monster’s character, Boyle also manages to accurately maintain the core themes and values that Shelley’s novel promotes. While he does change some plot pieces, the message retains the same ideas that make the work the classic that it is—those of family, responsibility, technology, ethics, creation, duty, love and the human spirit.

These questions and values were intricately woven into the dialogue, imagery, undeniable connection and combined talents of Cumberbatch and Miller in the lead roles. The whole audience, myself included, gave a lengthy round of applause at the end for a rendition of “Frankenstein” so true to the messages of the original work in such a tangible, stimulating manner.

The Irvine Barclay Theatre is scheduled to show the rest of National Theatre Live’s line-up, which includes Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” starring Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston, in November, “Coriolanus,” starring Tom Hiddleston, in March, and “War Horse,” in April.