Post-Theater Reflections on Frankenstein

In the summer of 2011, the National Theater in London put together a once in a lifetime theater experience. The NT put on a production of Nick Dear’s stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s famed novel, Frankenstein, with Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) directing.

The basic premise was brilliant on its own, but then Boyle upped the ante. He made the decision to cast two actors to alternate between playing Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The cast featured Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating those two roles.

I’ve long wanted to see this production, but how could I? It was a stage production in the summer of 2011. It’s 2014 now. I was S.O.L.

Until a few days ago, when my roommate informed me that our local movie theater was showing the NTLive film of the production this week. Monday night, they would show a version with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein. She’s going on Wednesday, but I could only go tonight, so…I went tonight!

As I mentioned above, Danny Boyle is probably best known as the director of Slumdog Millionaire. However, he was also the director of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. That production prepared me far better for what I saw in Frankenstein than Slumdog Millionaire did. The music and the lighting were both similar to the Opening Ceremonies. They were otherworldly and very natural, very primitive.

Overall, the production was delightful. The story is told from the Creature’s perspective rather than Victor’s. And while the Creature isn’t excused/forgiven all of his faults, he is easier to understand when one realizes/acknowledges that he was abandoned by his Creator at his “birth.”

There is, for example, an utterly brilliant scene in which the Creature and Victor meet and discuss both Victor’s motives in creating the Creature and the Creature’s current behavior/lifestyle. In their conversation, it becomes apparent that Victor views himself as a type of god or an equal to god. The Creature’s response comes from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,
Said then the lost Archangel, this the seat
That we must change for heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light?

In this scene, I think that Dear and Boyle demonstrate a full understanding of the struggle central both to the character of Victor Frankenstein and to that of the Creature. Frankenstein’s desire to be a god in his act of corruption forces the initially innocent Creature to feel a kinship with Satan rather than Adam. While the God of Genesis responds to the creation of Adam by saying “It is very good,” Victor responds to the creation of the Creature by panicking and running away. The contrast is thought-provoking. I think I’m not done processing this yet, but the production definitely left me with some meat to chew on.

Over all, I enjoyed the play. It was different from what I expected, but I liked being forced to think. If you can get a chance to see the film, I’d definitely recommend it.

If you’ve seen the production, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And once my roommate sees the version with Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor, I’ll try to link-up her reflections.

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