Tag Archives: Simon Slater

Body Politic


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd October, 2019


Rona Munro’s new stage adaptation of the novel that gave birth to the genre of science fiction puts its author, Mary Shelley at the centre of the action.  Tightly wound, spirited and full of youthful vigour, Mary is bursting with creativity as, before our very eyes, she writes the book that will render her immortal.   She narrates, breaks the fourth wall, and even collaborates with her characters as she starts and stops the story – we, of course, know how it will turn out, but it’s an effective and stylish way to present events we have seen portrayed time and time again.

As Mary, Eilidh Loan is a dynamic stage presence, hugely entertaining, wry and knowing, transmitting Mary’s passion to get her story written.  Her characters, seemingly under her control, are played by a strong ensemble: Ben Castle-Gibb is excellent as the driven Victor Frankenstein, showing his descent into obsession and insanity with great power; Thierry Mabonga is strong in three different roles, the salty Captain Walton, young William Frankenstein, and Victor’s best mate Henry; Greg Powrie brings authority to his roles as Victor’s father, and Waldman the doctor who recruits Victor as his assistant.  Natali McCleary brings vulnerability and strength to Elizabeth, but it is Michael Moreland as the ‘Monster’ who captivates our attention, from the jerky movements that bring him to life, to his augmented voice.

Becky Minto’s wintry set is striking and functional, giving two levels and a range of possibilities; her costume designs are elegantly tailored to denote the period.  Simon Slater’s discordant music and eerie sound design add to the tension, while Grant Anderson’s lighting bathes the action in cold beauty.  Director Patricia Benecke makes sparing use of shadowplay and mist for atmosphere and effect, and on the whole, this is a gripping and inventive retelling.  Oddly though, very little sympathy is elicited for the Monster – the script allows him no opportunity to show his potential for goodness. We only see him as a killer, an angry reject of society, and that’s a shame.  It’s like he was built with a bit missing.

This production is a fresh take on the well-worn tale, in which Mary Shelley has a message for us today, for our government in particular, above and beyond the usual don’t-dabble-with-nature theme.  She says, “If you neglect those you are supposed to care for, the weak, the poor, their destruction will be your shame.”  The play goes to some length to bring out Shelley’s revolutionary politics.  Right on!

Michael Moreland (Creature) and Ben Castle-Gibb (Frankenstein) - credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan-033

Daddy issues: the Monster (Michael Moreland) and Victor (Ben Castle-Gibb) Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.


Glad Night With The Pips

Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 24th September, 2012

“It wasn’t what I expected,” said one woman as the audience filed out at the end. No, me neither. I found my expectations surpassed by Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel about social climbing.

It begins, not with the famous scene in the graveyard, but with the grown-up version of protagonist Pip (Paul Nivison) entering the rather grandiose set: the interior of a grand mansion, gone to rack and ruin. At its centre is a wedding cake. Pip is revisiting the place where his change of fortunes began. Implored by Estella (Grace Rowe) he summons up memories of his youth, conjuring up characters from his past. They appear through the walls, from behind picture frames and so on, their faces ghostly white, grotesque and exaggerated, distorted by the prism of memory.

And so, in Miss Havisham’s living room, the whole story is re-enacted. Adult Pip narrates a bit, but mostly stands by and watches. Young Pip (Taylor Jay-Davies in an engaging performance) suffers cruelty at the hands of his sister (a deliciously monstrous Isabelle Joss in a characterisation that would be at home in a Roald Dahl) and has his emotions toyed with by the haughty Estella. I needn’t summarise the plot, I feel, because the book is so well-known, and of course any adaptation will truncate or omit some events and characters.

This one is a delightfully gothic affair. A lot of money has been lavished on the decaying grandeur of Robin People’s magnificent set and the striking, almost circus-like costumes by Annie Gosney and Graham McLaren. Mr Wopsle sports a top hat that adds almost another yard to his height. The soldiers who recapture escaped convict Magwitch wear expressionless masks, dehumanising them. There is more than a little of the Tim Burton to the aesthetic. Nathan Guy struts and poses on the mantelpiece as Herbert Pocket, a colourful mixture of the Joker and the Penguin by way of the Mad Hatter. Everyone in Pip’s past is bedecked with cobwebs. The action and atmosphere are supported by an eerie, almost horror-movie score by Simon Slater.

The dazzling designs are more than matched by the quality of the performances. Jack Ellis certainly has the moves like Jaggers (sorry) and the marvellous Paula Wilcox is brittle and imperious as celebrate eccentric Miss Havisham, swanning around in her wedding dress. When she re-enacts the moment she heard she was jilted on her wedding day, Wilcox emits a heart-rending cry. This is melodrama but you can’t help being touched and chilled by it.

As convict Magwitch, Christopher Ellison (off of The Bill) storms it. With thankless dialogue that requires him to swap his Vs for Ws he portrays the wretched warmint wery well, imbuing the character with dignity and pathos. Ellison has never been better.

Director Graham McLaren uses the conventions of narrative and emblematic theatre to tell the classic story in a new way, making it fresh without messing about with the plot or the themes. Dickens would be heartened to find we are more civilised these days. We no longer send children (or anyone else) to the gallows. But he would share my dismay that the iniquities of society persist. The arrogance of the materially well-off (but poor in terms of humanity and compassion) is all too visible every time a government minister appears on the telly.