There can scarcely be anyone who has failed to see some iteration of Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein, written when she was a mere 18 years old after dreaming the story in her sleep. However, seeing it performed on the stage was certainly new to me and many others in the audience I suspect. Rona Munro, who has written episodes of Dr Who amongst many other writing triumphs, has adapted the story into a play with a unique spin. In her play, Mary Shelley appears as a character herself and we see her agonise through her own writing process and sharing the stage with the characters she is creating.
Running as a theme throughout the play is the issue of equality, an issue which is particularly current. Mary is portrayed as a strong young woman, battling her insecurities as she struggles to tell her horrific story. She also talks of the oppression of native people. Frankenstein’s monster, in spite of his dastardly deeds, is portrayed with some sympathy as a misfit who struggles to be accepted. At one point, the monster shelters with a blind family who are refugees who have been forced to flee their own country after the son has a relationship with a Muslim woman.
Mary is played with great conviction and energy by Eilidh Loan, an established TV and radio actress but amazingly this is her professional stage debut. Ben Castle-Gibb is excellent as Victor Frankenstein, the scientist who creates the dreadful monster. He is a likeable character yet suffers so much within the play that, inevitably, one feels sorry for him. Again, it is very surprising that an actor can be so accomplished in what is his professional debut.
Michael Moreland, a highly experienced stage and screen actor, is superb as the monster. Don’t expect any green faces or bolts through the neck here; the monster is bare-chested with markings on his body but otherwise seems rather ‘normal’. At first I felt this was a problem; the monster would have been more frightening had he been green or some other colour, but, on reflection, this would not have fit with Munro’s theme of equality. We empathise with the monster more because his differences do not render him a ‘freak’.
Becky Minto’s set is outstanding. White trees act as ladders between the two storey set, which many of the characters use to climb between the floor and the balconies above. The lighting is also eerie and compelling.
I only have a few notes. Firstly, flashbacks aren’t easy to portray within a stage play, but the transitions between flashback and present day weren’t always clear. Secondly, there are six actors but many of them were playing multiple characters. There were a few occasions when it wasn’t clear which character they were playing. And thirdly, although the play is very interesting in a number of respects, whether it is truly ‘terrifying’ (as Munro hopes) is a little doubtful.
That being said, this play is well worth seeing and I would commend the New Theatre for allowing Cardiff theatregoers to see it.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is on at the New Theatre Cardiff until 2nd November.
Reviewed By Alan Coulthard