Frankenstein is a great book - a book with so much meaning it almost feels as if Shelley is holding a pillow to your face, ready to smother you with feathered handfulls of words and moral messages that can potentially change the course of your life; perhaps its not the most subtle, but why be subtle when you can be devastating?
Last Monday me and a couple of friends were lucky enough to get tickets to see a special showing of Danny Boyle's Frankenstein in the cinema to celebrate the National Theatre's 50th anniversary. Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch played the title roles of Frankenstein and the creature (they alternated roles every night whilst the show was playing in the theatre, but at the showing we went to Cumberbatch played the creature to Miller's Frankenstein). Of course I'm probably biased because these are two of my favourite actors, particularly Cumberbatch, but their performances were absolutely phenomenal.
The great thing about theatre is that it can portray the interpretations of many different people: from costume designers and lighting technicians to the actors, producer and director; many, many people have the opportunity to put forward their owninterpretations and readings of a text to produce a single creative piece. In this particular show, for example, the lighting as Frankenstein's creature woke and began to move about the stage links directly back to Shelley's words. "A stronger light pressed upon my nerves, so that I was obliged to shut my eyes", a light that in the show becomes repeated bursts of blinding white-yellow light (it was so bright I cried), the kind of light that would be absolutely debilitating were it to continue. Also the sudden shocks of light bursting at unexpected intervals as Cumberbatch crawled around the stage like a baby, wearing nothing but a loin cloth for a good 5 minutes, maybe longer, really did feel like a shock to the nerves. -- I can't believe I've just spent a paragraph talking about lighting?? I know nothing about lighting -- can you tell?? Aha.
In terms of acting, I really think Cumberbatch achieved one of the best performances I've ever seen, I only wish I'd had the opportunity to see it live as it must have been even better in the actual theatre. Cumberbatch's performance really brought to the forefront Shelley's messages about the wicked extents humanity can reach.
"Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie".
The entire plot of Frankenstein never shies away from criticising the enormous failings of humankind, and while there is immense good within our same species, perhaps it is the overpowering negatives which need to be addressed in each of us first and foremost. What arguably makes Frankenstein as hard-hitting as it can be if read for more than entertainment, is the way Shelley confronts all that no-one wants to admit about the extent to which people can fall, but which we all, in our hearts, know to be true. For me at least, the above quotation is amazingly profound and contains within it perhaps one of the most important messages that needs to be learnt.
What was surprising about Danny Boyle's production was the combination of the dark, gothic story of Frankenstein with genuine humour. From Frankenstein's questioning his creature with "You've read Paradise Lost?" and the creature's response: "I liked it", to Elizabeth's upset at forgetting to invite the creature to her wedding, these moments made for scenes of much needed comic-relief. However, these moments of light comedy were then perfectly off-set with more serious dialogue. I'm not sure who the script-writer was but their writing is absolutely fantastic...
"What does it feel like to be in love?"
"It feels like everything is boiling over and spilling out of me; it feels like my lungs are on fire, and my heart is a hammer, and I feel like I can do anything... I feel like I can do anything in the world."
Sometimes I find it ironic how the best of human nature is described by Frankenstein's 'creature', a being made from the dead who is ultimately, and arguably, ruined by what he learned through observing people as we really are from the unbiased perspective of a forced outsider.
If you ever get an opportunity to see this production of Frankenstein honestly do as it's fantastic. The combination of Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller and Danny Boyle was always going to produce something amazing, but it really did surpass all expectations, making for a show that, if at times heavy, is only so because of the subject matter that, true as it is, can at times be hard to digest.