The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 15th October, 2022
Back in 1818, young Mary Shelley invented the science fiction genre with her gothic novel that deals with those little things like creation, life and death. By creating life and thereby usurping God, Victor Frankenstein then shirks his responsibilities as a creator. His creation, unguided, has to find his own way in the world. Thus, the Creature represents the human condition, floundering while God insists on being an absentee father.
This new adaptation by Catherine Prout hits all the right plot points, even with a scaled-down cast of characters. The rather verbose dialogue is true to the style of the Shelley original and does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to conveying a sense of the period.
Dan Grooms is an impassioned if youthful Victor, adept at showing signs of high distress both physically and emotionally. I wonder if his pre-recorded narration would be better done live as he potters around in his laboratory.
He is more than matched by his Creature, in a towering performance from Alastair Oakley, who is imposing and innocent, ferocious and frightening, while also being pitiful. It’s a remarkable portrayal.
This central pair is supported by a versatile ensemble. The mighty Robert Moore is charming as Victor’s BFF Henry, and brings a touch of humour as farmer Felix; Matilda Bott is devastating as the wrongly-accused Justine; Phil Leach brings gravitas as Victor’s dad, and warmth as blind De Lacey; Joshua Chandos impresses as Captain Waldman to whom Victor unfolds his tale; while Lily Bennett does a bang-up job of making too-good-to-be-true Elizabeth sympathetic rather than soppy.
Adrian Daniel’s set has something of a steampunk aesthetic, all ropes and chains, dials and switches. Lit by Kat Murray, it becomes a versatile and atmospheric setting for the play’s many locations.
As ever, director John-Robert Partridge makes the most of the Attic’s intimate space. Characters roam around in blackout, menacing the front row. Sudden screams and loud noises keep us on edge, as the gruesome tale weaves its fascinating spell. Even the scene changes are eerily done. It all flows smoothly and creepily – apart from some teething troubles with a recalcitrant table top that threaten to hold up the action! With today’s matinee being only the second performance of the run, I’m sure these minor problems will soon be ironed out.
Production values are high – special shout out to Sue Kent’s make-up work on the Creature – proving that with the right treatment, the familiar fable still has the power to intrigue, provoke and shock.
Like Victor’s Creature, this spellbinding show is extremely well put together.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆