Review: Frankenstein at the Playhouse

Date: 13/11/2019

No-one in literature or beyond quite embodies the horror at one’s own creation than Victor Frankenstein. And perhaps that was also true of Mary Shelley in the writing of her most famous work.

That’s certainly the thesis of Rona Munro’s new adaptation of the gothic novel, one that has been much interpreted – mainly, as Munro points out, by affluent white men.

With a genuinely novel conceit – the mirroring of Frankenstein and Shelley as awe-struck creators, as meta-fiction co-conspirators – Munro succeeds in finally breathes new life into this hyperannuated corpse. And when the Monster addresses Shelley directly there’s a hint of brilliance. Much like the novel, the moments of wonder do not last.

Munro’s production notes – and Shelley herself – suggest that the audience should come away frightened above all. That’s a noble end but there’s there’s little to fear in this new Frankenstein.

Michael Moreland’s Monster – a cockney scar dealer – balances moments of pathos and rage, but it’s all so rushed. Characters appear, shout a lot and meet a swift, bloodless and unconvincing death.

Meanwhile Eilidh Loan as Shelley deals in sardonic asides, detailing her own struggle with a Monster as she attempts to translate nightmare into prose.

She finds in Frankenstein a hero she dislikes – another irresponsible man of destiny – and while this is initially winning the smirking asides and hectoring monologues quickly become tiresome.

There is some interesting sound design and Becky Minto’s set nicely inverts stark white trees to give them the appearance of forked lightning, or enormous membranes. It’s not enough to make up for a production that is simply rather lacking.

The failure of Frankenstein is a puzzler. Munro’s background on stage, not to mention as the writer of one of the best Doctor Who stories of the classic series, invited high hopes. But while it threatens to crackle, Frankenstein is ultimately dead on arrival.

Liverpool Playhouse
Until 16 November