Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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Perth Theatre's production of 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' is about as meta as it gets.  In this modern adaptation, writer Rona Munro breathes life into writer Mary Shelley, who breathes life into Victor Frankenstein, who in turn breathes life into his creation, Frankenstein's monster.  This play has more layers than 'Inception' director Christopher Nolan dreaming about someone dreaming about peeling an onion!  

This might sound heavy going but it really isn't, events unfold with a playful deftness of touch that belies how much is really going on beneath the surface.  A lot of the play's success depends on the tremendous set design.  As soon as I take my seat I'm struck by how eerie and evocative it is, lit in a silvery monochrome Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.that (whether intentional or not) recalls the iconic James Whale film version.  In the words of the lady next to us, 'it's simply stunning.'

What's also stunning is how the set serves as more than a mere backdrop.  Actors are generally better at chewing scenery than climbing it.  However, tonight they clamber effortlessly up and down between the split level set, placing themselves at various heights and perspectives making for a more visually arresting mise-en-scene. 

The visual playfulness goes hand in hand with the narrative playfulness, and Eilidh Loan plays Shelley as a gleeful puppet master, playing her characters and readership like a Steinway.

When I realised that the story was going to be narrated by Shelley I have to admit my heart dropped a bit.  Perhaps this is a little bit of anti-goth prejudice.  I mean I love The Cure but when I listen to their songs I don't necessarily want Robert Smith popping up every five minutes telling me how sad he was when he wrote them. 

I was wrong to be disheartened though, as Mary Shelley (at least this Mary Shelley) is great company and her words give a great insight into the creative process. As soon as I take my seat I'm struck by how eerie and evocative it is...Although Shelley could perhaps be regarded as the ultimate proto-goth she is actually pretty chipper and has a hilariously wicked sense of humour, resulting in more dark belly laughs than you would expect in a gothic chiller.

The rest of the cast is more than up for the job too.  Ben Castle-Gibb as Victor Frankenstein runs the gamut from wide-eyed naivety, to dark dread, and eventually to a vengeance consumed fanatic that would give Captain Ahab a run for his money. 

Thierry Mabonga, Natali McCleary, Sarah MacGillivray and Greg Powrie also convince in multiple roles.  People are really here for the monster though, and Michael Moreland is tremendous in that role.  He is possibly the most eloquent portrayal of Frankenstein's creation yet but still maintaining the ability to brutalise and terrify.  

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - The MonsterThe lighting effects, sound design, and score lend the production a cinematic sheen that seems to inform the cast's performance.  Weirdly, on my drive through to Perth I listened to a radio interview with Franz Bak (who wrote the music for TV's 'The Killing') on the importance in theatre of a good score and sound design (or underscore). 

Well, 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' definitely ticks all the boxes, with everything from atmospheric slow panning synths and old school string stabs, to creepy 'Friday the 13th' style delays.  It just made the experience all the more immersive and I love it.

As a horror fiction and movie fanatic, it is amazing to see what a debt of gratitude that horror and science-fiction owe Mary Shelley.  You can draw a straight line from her work to stories like the 'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson,' Herbert West - Reanimator' by H.P. Lovecraft and 'The Island of Doctor Moreau' by H.G. Wells. 

Despite being an ambitious and daringly different version of a classic, importantly 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' shares with these works the ability to abundantly entertain and terrify.

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