If it weren’t for Theater Mania’s email offering 20% off tickets, I’d have never known that the National Theater Live was broadcasting Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Evanston. What Sherlock fan could pass up the deal?
The acting, sets and costumes were all outstanding. Last night we saw Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Dr. Frankenstein. I’d caught bits and pieces of old Frankenstein films, which gave me an idea of what to expect. However, I didn’t know the movies departed from Mary Shelley‘s book.
Now I know why.
Despite a stellar performance by Cumberbatch and creative staging, the story fell short of what I’d expected.
Just after birth
The play opened with a scene, a protracted scene, of the Creature’s birth masterfully performed by Cumberbatch, yet the scene dragged. After a while, I was thinking, “We get it, the Creature’s gawky and learning to walk is a clumsy, long process. Can you please move on?” How I wished the director had made that more succinct. I also wondered why Frankenstein hadn’t heard all the banging about his creature was doing. Why did it take him so long to get into the lab to see what the hell was going on? We’re later told that Frankenstein was a workaholic, obsessed with his work. Well, not that night.
Once the creature’s born and walking, Frankenstein discovers him and he freaks out. As a result of Frankenstein’s screaming rejection, the Creature hits the road. Mind you all he’s wearing is a loin cloth and he knows nothing of life. He can barely walk and has no knowledge of language. He has no concept of geography, what a town or street is, what buying or begging is. Nothing at all. Nada.
After a minor run in with some scamps, the Creature meets an old man who’s blind and thus accepting. The man teaches the Creature to read and think critically. Pretty far fetched since a baby needs to hear language for years before talking let alone reading Paradise Lost passages. Yeah, I don’t blame the B movie directors for departing from this story.
While under the tutelage of the blind man, the Creature hides in the shadows fearing rejection and abuse from anyone who can see him.
Life is fine, though limited till the old man’s son and daughter-in-law panic when they first see the Creature. The man was so set on integrating the Creature into his family, yet didn’t have the sense to prepare them for this meeting. He’d been working with the Creature for a long, long time.
If he thought the Creature was hideous, why didn’t he scrap the project and start anew after taking some sewing and art lessons?
Throughout the play the Creature is a gawky biped with gruesome scars and bruises that never heal. It’s like Frankenstein sewed the Creature with his feet. I never understood how Frankenstein, who designed and made the creature was so repulsed.
The play deals (ineptly, I’d say) with themes of responsibility, connection, alienation, prejudice, but it’s all done with the sophistication of an 19 year old. I’m far less impressed with Shelley’s stature as a novelist if this is indeed the accurate retelling the play claims to be.
Frankenstein was the typical one dimensional scientist who’s anti-social and uncomfortable in society. He’s okay with theory, but horrible with real life. For some reason, his fiance is madly in love with him and keeps trying to get blood from the rock-like heart of this nerd dressed in ruffles.
The cost of Frankenstein’s misuse of science is death, several deaths.
While the play will be performed again in July with Cumberbatch and Miller changing roles, I couldn’t sit through the story again. I’m sure Cumberbatch would do an excellent job as Frankenstein, yet he’s limited by the poor story.
It’s weird to see so much good in a production and yet not be able to whole heartedly recommend it. I’d even give the set designers and actors awards, but I wouldn’t want to sit through this again.