This was truly a first for us: a play so terrifying that the girl next to me screamed and half threw herself out of her seat.
Read on, if you dare…
It started innocently enough with Victoria Frankenstein (Polly Frame) giving a rousing lecture on the human brain, until the cadaver she was using moved and it was revealed to be her friend Justine (Rachel Denning) indulging her. Funny moments like this punctuated the entire play and were welcome respites from the darkness that dominated the rest of it. The darkness really has to be talked about more. We bought tickets for this play on a whim, we hadn’t been lured in with any of the marketing (what marketing? The first time I even saw a flyer was on the way out of the theatre after the show!) and I stumbled across it by accident on the Sheffield Theatres website while buying tickets for something else, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was vastly underprepared for psychologically disturbing aspects of the play. The dream/nightmare sequences were truly terrifying, both visually and audibly, the noise of a heartbeat was used to incredible effect and the transition from the dream to nightmarish conclusion happened seamlessly.
The Creature (Ed Gaughan) managed to illicit terror, disgust and sympathy from the audience, which is no easy feat. There were moments when he was difficult to understand, but I imagine anyone who was previously dead and experimented on would have issues remembering speech. I also approved of the changing of the source material, even though I was all prepared for a rant about it not being faithful to the novel. Changing the Creature to being a misunderstood soul who didn’t actually kill anyone worked surprisingly well with Victor becoming Victoria. Her warmth and femininity allows for a more compassionate ending than a mad scientist hell bent on creating life regardless of the consequences. Is the playwright (Selma Dimitrijevic) trying to say that only a man (Victor) can go on a bloodthirsty vendetta across the world to kill the Creature that slaughtered his family, whereas a woman (Victoria) can only hug the Creature while he dies? Does Selma perhaps feel that making the main character female means a softening of the story? Is it stereotypical to have a woman be more compassionate than a man? Is it even perhaps slightly sexist? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
We love the gender reversals of established male characters, from Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) in Battlestar Galactica to the entire Ghostbusters team in Ghostbusters (not forgetting Chris Hemsworth playing the traditionally female secretary). Dr. Frankenstein followed this trend and did not disappoint. Victoria Frankenstein is a strong, independent woman who doesn’t get bogged down with men and getting married, she’s incredibly career driven. It felt slightly amiss to not make a bigger deal about a woman wanting to practice medicine in the late 19th Century, but I suppose that’s not the focus of Frankenstein. Her family was very supportive with her father paying for her education, but there were moments Victoria and her sister, Elizabeth (Victoria Elliott), argued over believing in science over God. These moments really humanised the siblings and helped to reinforce Victoria’s unquestioning faith in science. It’s a small issue and would probably detract from the plot, but her encountering sexism would have certainly helped to ground the time period. I assume this wasn’t included as the original book obviously didn’t include this, no-one would have had an issue with a man practicing medicine after all. The more I think about it then the more I realise it was probably a lazy decision, as it would have required including things not included in the book. At the risk of launching into a rant then I shall leave that point there!
The runaway star of the show was obviously Prometheus the rabbit, how many other characters go from alive, to dead, to alive again, to dead again over the course of one play?! The rabbit is obviously named after the original title for the Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and was a nice little nod to the play’s origins. Brilliant acting from the rabbit, I predict big things for him.