★★ | Dr Frankenstein – National Tour
In a reimagining of the classic tale, Dr Victoria Frankenstein shuns her family as she relentlessly pursues her quest for knowledge and in her exploration of the part of existence where life and death meet. In her experiments with bringing the dead back to life, she creates a creature, which overpowers her and escapes. Haunted by her creation and by her guilt, her life begins to unravel as the creature returns a little too close to home.
Mary Shelley’s definitive work is one which is firmly cemented in popular culture and one which is not easy to present with an original slant, which Northern Stage have tried to do. There were numerous themes of conflict portrayed within the production, with Victoria shunning religion in favour of science; her pursuit of knowledge at the cost of her compassion and the sacrifice of others for the preservation of one’s own interests. As the story arc progressed, there was something bittersweet in the way in which it takes a monster to make Victoria more human; despite how she treats her family and the way in which her self-driven ambition is ultimately self-destructive.
Utilising a quasi-steampunk style set and, at times, some effective lighting; there was a relatively competent performance from Polly Frame as Dr Victoria Frankenstein; and whilst Ed Gaughan’s portrayal of the Creature was physically engaging, the way in which the creature spoke made many of his lines indiscernible. However, the closing scene was one which did carry some emotional weight and did bring the characters journey to a definitive and tender end.
But sadly, the production overall was one which was never really hit its stride. The re-imagining of Dr Frankenstein as a female had such potential; but the struggles of Victoria to carve a path into the male-dominated medical profession or the challenges faced by her in breaking with the conventional female role was never really advanced, which, in the end, resulted in adding nothing of significance to the story. The timeline of the narrative was often unclear, with no clear demarcation between shifts in scenes or timeframes; and an intrusive sound design dominated the first act. But the biggest issue was that the production just lacked atmosphere and dramatic tension. A heavy reliance on the relationships between the Frankenstein family members meant for a limited narrative progression and the all too brief appearance of the creature throughout meant that the production felt more like a family drama than a gothic horror.
Whilst there are some interesting themes on offer and despite a handful of redeeming features, this feels like a missed opportunity, and it is a genuine shame that the production never really achieves its potential, in what could have been a wholly refreshing and original take on a classic tale.
Dr Frankenstein plays at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until 15th March 2017 before continuing on its national tour. Visit www.northernstage.co.uk/whats-on/dr-frankenstein-tour for further details.