Original Review for the Reviews Hub
Elegiac and gorgeously gothic
Playing God in an Anglican chapel is, like Frankenstein’s Creature, ‘fearless, and therefore powerful’. Amongst the gravestones at Arnos Vale, Red Rope Theatre stitch together and stage their agonised, magnificently imagined Frankenstein’s monster at the cemetery’s Victorian altar in Matt Grinter’s elegiac, gorgeously gothic imagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel.
Thematically and theatrically atmospheric, Arnos Vale and the novel are Victorian artworks framed by the Ancient Greek: in its title, Frankenstein references the mythological figure ‘Prometheus’, whose actions Victor echoes in creating the Creature, and the nineteenth-century cemetery at Arnos Vale was created to echo the classicism of a Greek necropolis. And, with fingers, faces, and figures under foot, it’s frighteningly fertile ground for playing God.
Grinter’s text is poetic, with some elegantly elegiac monologues for the gifted and frugal cast of three, especially in an elegy to the mother of Danann McAleer’s guilt-plagued, grief-stricken Frankenstein, for whom death has invited itself in and will never leave. Though powerful in its poetry and fearless in the actors’ performances, there are moments that lose their power with the pacing, although it’s likely an effect of the script’s loyalty to the epistolary structure that, while respectful, isn’t always an effortlessly stitched creation.
The cast of three, each with a principal part and economically directed by Rebecca Robson, can only perform a fraction of the characters, and so Frankenstein’s formative Mother is cut, while the unsighted De Lacey and his daughter Agatha, from whom the Creature learns the English language, make a passing appearance. Their killing, while horrifyingly visceral with screams echoing through the church, is all we see of the family, and the Creature’s affection for them and all they unwittingly teach him only appears fully later in the script, when the pathos, and the frustration and fear that motivates the Creature to kill them, has passed.
The pacing is uneven, with the Creature crafted and electrified to torturous life within moments, yet the unjustly executed Justine has several scenes as her fate approaches, with each scene treated like a vignette with intervals covered by darkness and underscored by composer Oliver Thomas’s echoing score. While the score is effectively atmospheric, the opaque intermissions from scene to scene, while practical for the cast and costume changes, remove rather than immerse us in the setting. This Frankenstein, while fantastically staged, feels like it could engage even more with its ghostly location: let us walk with Frankenstein through the graveyard as the spark of lightning strikes and the figure takes its terrifying form.
McAleer’s fight choreography and Molly Hawkins’s effective, tacked-together costume facilitate Lois Baldry’s terrifying form and forceful performance as the Creature, flying from childlike curiosity to cruel, merciless rage, and Lily Maryon’s loving Elizabeth lifts McAleer’s morosely remorseful creator with a touch of comic charm amongst the tragedy.
Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein, with its tight grip on the gothic and elegiac characteristics of the novel, is on frightening form in Arnos Vale’s Victorian graveyard, and though some more imaginative stitching of story to setting could enliven the monster even more, it is a truly fearless, and powerful, performance.