Frankenstein – Follow Up Review – National Theatre 9th February 2011

So on Tuesday night the National Theatre released a load of return tickets for the previously sold out production of Frankenstein – including one lonely little £12 ticket in the 2nd row of the very far left of the stalls. Having waited for a couple of hours to give other people the chance to buy it I decided that as I had half a day off work and would be at the National Theatre that afternoon anyway to see Mark Gatiss speak (he was wonderful – charming, witty and urbane) that I would buy it even if it meant seeing Benedict as the Creature twice in fairly quick succession.

Having seen it again I think the majority of my original review still stands.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as The Creature was, if anything, even stronger the second time round which I didn’t think was possible. It’s a towering performance which pretty much obliterates everyone else on the stage. It’s an intensely physical performance which you fear will leave him half dead by the end of the run (he already mentioned at the stage door wearing bandages on his feet as he’s ripping the skin off them). It’s also a performance which displays a huge emotional range- whether the Creature is questioning the whys and wherefores of his existence with De Lacey, playing childishly with William, laughing and leaping around with giddy joy with Frankenstein once he promises to provide him with a Bride, or cruelly manipulating the innocent Elisabeth Cumberbatch captures perfectly the emotion in every scene. The play flounders whenever he isn’t on stage. I failed to highlight in my original review just what extraordinary work he does with his voice – mewling and clicking like an infant at the beginning, speaking awkwardly as he learns with De Lacey, roaring in anger at Frankenstein (my friends and I particularly like the way he says “remorse”) and the gentle sly tone he uses with Elisabeth as he lures her into a false sense of security. All wonderful stuff.

Jonny Lee Miller seemed a lot more confident as Frankenstein – his arrogant joy at his creation is wonderful and he was rather adorable in his scenes with Elisabeth. I cannot wait to see him as the Creature (hopefully he will be playing that role when I go in a couple of weeks). The best scenes in the play remain the two handers with Frankenstein and the Creature – you wish there were more of them.

The ensemble (Naomie Harris & Karl Johnson excepted) remain problematic – there are two very different levels of acting going on but I fear my original review may have failed to give Ella Smith her due (sorry Ella!). She was marvellous in Fat Pig opposite Robert Webb and Joanna Page and she gives her very small roles in Frankenstein her all exuding warmth and charm despite being saddled with some of the poorest lines in the play.

George Harris remains the weakest leak as M Frankenstein. I can just about handwave the fact that he has a caribbean accent but he has no chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller and is very wooden.

And if there is no quicker way to change the sets than to have small armies of NT employees appear on stage then perhaps they could at least be dressed to fit the aesthetic?

In terms of things I didn’t quite appreciate the first time around:

The Creature’s scene with De Lacey is such a joy, with the Creature acting at times like a child who has been scolded by his father while Cumberbatch employs his talent for mimicry impersonating Karl Johnson’s voice and stance rather well.

I can’t work out if the horrendous rotten egg smell which appears briefly early on in proceedings is a side effect of the special effects or intentional. It appears at the moment the Creature is smelling the grass and then immediately moves off it disgusted. Perhaps a clever gimmick to show the Creature exploring his sense of smell?

I was completely wrong about the eviscerated Bride being a mannequin. From a different angle it was clear it was the actress herself. Not sure why it looked so fake the previous time.

There were a couple of small changes already – the sequence were William’s body was found was slightly shorter and the Creature emerged from underneath the sheets on top of the bed (rather than under it) in the scene with Elisabeth in a very impressive piece of choreography.

Very much looking forward to seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature – I understand he did his first preview tonight.

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3 Responses to Frankenstein – Follow Up Review – National Theatre 9th February 2011

  1. Claire says:

    Thanks for this, I’m loving reading the reviews – it brings it all back! Saturday seems like so long ago already. I completely agree with everything you say, too. Benedict is so outstanding that almost a whole week later I still haven’t managed to put his performance into words in a way that I’m satisfied does him justice.

    I’m absolutely certain that the Bride was a mannequin on Saturday – it was on my very short list of down-points as it looked so incredibly fake that I found it distracting! Maybe they’ve changed it because they realised how unrealistic it looked!

    If Benedict’s under the sheets rather than under the bed, is it still just as shocking when he jumps out, or is it clear he’s there all along now?

    • Hi Claire – delighted you liked the reviews. Benedict is stunning as The Creature – I’ll be fascinated to see how JLM does in the role.

      Oh that makes me feel better if you thought it was a mannequin too! On Monday I was utterly convinced it was a mannequin. It looked completely fake and at one point when JLM swung the apparatus too swiftly it rebounded off it clunkily. But on Wednesday it was definitely the actress throughout- because my seat was so far over as they wheeled the frame off the stage you could see her pull herself upright. I couldn’t see how she looked from the front to see if the evisceration looks the same.

      I had no idea he was under the bed sheets. I was expecting him to emerge from under the bed so was looking to see if I could spot him – I don’t think you would have known in a million years that someone was under the top sheet of the bed unless someone told you- it is very well done.

  2. onebluestocking says:

    I wonder if they changed where he jumps out from, because of his various injuries (legs, feet, wrists and back I’ve read so far)? I haven’t seen the play, but if he had to crouch under the bed for a long time and then jump on top of it, that it might be difficult. It would be easier to lie still on top of the bed and then pop up suddenly.

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