Review: Frankenstein at the Tung Auditorium

Frankenstein James Whale
Date: 31/10/2022

It’s the size that strikes you first, whether it’s Boris Karloff’s hulking monster or the dimensions of the Tung Auditorium, Liverpool’s newest music venue. Either way, big is the operative word.

This innovative take on a film screening matches the 30s horror classic to a score by composer Michael Shapiro, drawing out the tension, the creepiness and Sturm und Drang of a film released over 90 years ago. The Auditorium is rather more contemporary – it opened earlier this year as part of the University of Liverpool’s Yoko Ono Lennon Centre and promises a world-class concert hall. As an introduction, this novel experience of Frankenstein is a winning one.

While the shrieks, snarls and screams of the film mirror the starkness of the German expressionism on screen, James Whale’s film was released without a musical score. Shapiro’s music doesn’t drown out the action: it’s respectful, complementary but unafraid to match the violence and terror unfolding on the big screen.

There are tender moments too. The monster picking over flowers collected by a farmer’s daughter, or reaching in vain towards sunlight in the first moments after its rebirth. Karloff’s performance – detailed almost completely through his eyes – has pathos and power alike: a monster and a child in the same brutish body.

Karloff’s performance – detailed almost completely through his eyes – has pathos and power alike: a monster and a child in the same hulking body

Shapiro also has to deal with an almost comedic sub-plot of Frankenstein’s father, a pompous buffer who might as well have walked in from a Marx Brothers film. While it might seem like sacrilege to say so, the film would be better off without it but the score eases the audience through the sudden shifts in tone, just as it burnishes the scenes that deal with Frankenstein’s experiments – and desperate attempts to deal with the aftermath.

The Northern Film Orchestra – brass, woodwind, strings and percussion – do the film proud and cope admirably with some technical gremlins that occasionally pause the film; the acoustics of the Tung Auditorium are beautifully attuned to the sizeable orchestra.

This state-of-the-art building will be used as a teaching space but promises a variety of music: classical and jazz, electronica and spoken word. Bill Ryder-Jones, Courtney Pine and pianist Paul Lewis are among the eclectic range of acts to feature this year.

Seeing live music, especially chamber or orchestra music, in person, always brings with it a thrill – and live music accompanying silent or score-less films is a uniquely beautiful experience. The combination here, at the Tung, breathes new life into a venerable body.

The Tung Auditorium