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‘Frankenstein’ is a work which I have in fact I have read when I was fourteen.I was interested  Unfortunately for me, I had read it directly after I had finished reading the fast paced ‘Dracula’. ‘Frankenstein’, I found was a more sedate affair in my opinion. It is a beautifully written novel and because of it we have some of the most memorable movies, and now a very memorable theatre production.


I went to see the two versions of the Frankenstein Encore performances in Dublin. On the Thursday 14th went to see the version I had seen live last year in Castlebar on St Patrick's Day where Benedict was the creature and Jonny Lee Miller was Victor. On the next week on the Thursday 21st Jonny Lee Miller was the creature and Benedict was Victor. this was a version that I had yet to see.The National Theatre have made both the screenplay and the soundtrack by Underworld available. These I have gotten my hands on last year after seeing the production live on St Patrick's day. I am very glad to have had the chance to see Benedict as the creature again and also to finally see Jonny Lee Miller's interpretation of the creature. Both of these very different performances are definably worth checking out. Also worth checking out is the different ways in which both Jonny Lee Miller interpret the role of Victor, the creator.

Benedict as the creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor:

Benedict as the creature was as I remembered. It was interesting noting from the brief documentary about the production which was played before the production started, that Benedict Cumberbatch took inspiration for his creature movement from crash and stroke victims, whilst Jonny Lee Miller used his child as inspiration.  I had forgotten this.  Seeing this version again confirms for me why Benedict is one of the most incredibly talented actors of his generation.  What continually intrigues me about his performances is the amount of different emotions he can express in certain short spaces of time. The physicality he has transferred into the role proves how well he has observed and adapted the footage he used as source. Benedict's creature is full of feeling juxtaposed to Miller's Victor. He feels intensely, this is to his detriment as he is unable to control said emotions. His performance really draws you into the world of the creature and you see the world from his point of view.

It's interesting what Miller does with Victor. His Victor is callous, he isn't unfeeling though, he feels but he approach his feelings is the same as the same as he approached his experiments.It could also be interpreted that Jonny interprets Victor as the spoilt scholar.There is more of treating his family with distain, impatience and a detachment. This could be arguably seen in his Victor’s treatment of Elizabeth.Jonny’s Victor treats Elizabeth more like part of his property, more like one of his servants than his fiancée/ wife. He is more angry that Elizabeth sexually usurped from under his nose then violently killed by his creation. He doesn't understand his feelings, he spends his time cooked up rather than with his own wife. Adding to this, he doesn't interact much with his own brother. The most interaction we see is after his brother William dies and Victor is talking to him as a figment of his feverish mind. Victor's emotions burst out and is epitomised by a growing obsession to be rid of his creation. Bent purely on revenge at end.

Victor:’But you give me purpose.You, I desire. Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed! (Scene Thirty p.80)

Jonny Lee Miller as the creature and Benedict as Victor:

Jonny Lee Miller as the creature was more childlike. Less visceral than Benedict's, but still arresting performance. It is clear to see the influence of his child in his performance which makes it an interesting interpretation. Jonny Lee Miller's  creature, in contrast to Benedict’s, is more vocal from the start. Jonny Lee Miller's  creature acts more childlike and questioning throughout. He also has more of a stammer. There is an underlying noticeable anger and frustration with Jonny’s creature. Jonny Lee Miller's creature becomes more menacing though, as the play progresses. Childlike innocence is replaced by an overlying need to smite those who have wronged him.

Benedict as Victor was interesting. There was more of an empathy with his Victor rather than the disconnect that Jonny Lee Miller had. His Victor is emotional when William's body is found. Benedict's Victor is more like the star pupil hungry to learn. Frustrated at his inability to fully understand the concept of love. His Victor though was more in love with Elizabeth and there is more of an engage. He is more curious to learn but treats love as another academic exercise.In fact Benedict’s Victor would seem to be more horrified at what has happened to Elizabeth, and genuinely seems to mourn for her.  An awful lot of his creature's gesticulations come in towards the end. When his Victor is alone and resorts to medicine to get him through, his creature's slur starts to break through. When Benedict's Victor is on his own talking with William, he is more animated even teasing his dead brother.

Virtue, Creation, Irrational Fear and Change:

An interesting aspect is that neither Victor or the creature are entirely virtuous. Whilst the creature begins like an innocent child, he is corrupted through experience. Victor as creator and experienced in his profession, spurning his creation, Victor denies his creature happiness and contentment by killing creature's mate that he had created for him, selfishness. Indeed, the other thing to note is that Victor never names his creature.The fact that Victor doesn't name his creature seems important enough for noting by both Boyle and the Kenneth Branagh movie. Branagh though falls into the old point of not giving the creature a voice juxtaposed with Boyle giving the creature more of a voice than has been given before. The decision to swap roles between the actors means that you see an interesting pattern emerge. The actor playing Victor in any given night goes through a deconstructing of his character whilst the actor in any given night that plays the creature undergoes a construction. One at any given night would be polar opposite of the other. In fact, as the play progresses we see the dominance of the creature in both versions increase, whilst Victor starts to deteriorate.When the characters both shake hands a noticeable change occurs. It is the start of the change for both characters. The actor who playing Victor on either night starts to show little characteristics which are usually associated with when they play the creature.  As the creature notes:

Creature:‘The son becomes the father, the master the slave’ (Scene Thirty p.78)

As I watched both versions and saw this happen in both versions, I could not but think that a similar thing like this happened in a short story I had read in John Connolly's Nocturnes collection called The Inkpot Monkey. (p.202-203 of Nocturnes)

The only two entirely virtuous people are Elizabeth and De Lacey.
Elizabeth, victor's fiancée. Elizabeth herself is a very interesting character. As someone who shares that name I grew up knowing that the name means 'oath of God'. Consider for a moment the encounters both the creature and Victor have with
Elizabeth. Victor's treatment of Elizabeth is awful, he emotionally and physically starves her from the love that she so craves, belittles her intelligence and shuns her when she tries to offer her help to him.   
De Lacey is tutor, a former university professor. He is the willing innocent distributer of knowledge. How that knowledge is used is another question entirely. If knowledge is power, then in the case of Victor the scholar, the power of that knowledge has corrupted him. The creature benefits from the education (or re-education) he receives from De Lacey, however it leaves him with more questions when he is cast out again, those questions leading to anger which has monstrous ramifications.

De Lacey: What have I done? Dear God, what have I done? (Scene Twenty p. 28)

Victor's father is an interesting character to look at juxtaposed with his own son. Victor created his creature from science. Victor's father from natural means. In fact throughout the theme of creating something monstrous runs right through the production. Victor creates the creature, De Lacey creates and introduces the ability to question in an articulate and intelligent manner to the creature, Victor's father creates him. All of the results do not turn out as their creators intended to turn out. This is best expressed by Monsieur Frankenstein:

M.Frankenstein: ‘ What have I brought into this world?’

Clarice: ‘You did your best.’

M. Frankenstein: ‘I failed’

(Scene Twenty-Nine p.77)

Irrational fear of the unknown is a big theme, with irrational of peasants towards creature to the fear of the prospect of intimacy expressed by Victor.  This irrational fear of the creature by the the villagers proves to be detrimental to the development of the creature. It could be argued that if the creature had experienced compassion from those he had met, he might have turned out to be the monster that they make him out to be and that he complies and assumes the stereotype that has been thrust on him by the peasants. So by the time that he eventually meets Elizabeth it is too late.

Final Thoughts:

The appearance of the play is very dark, very gothic. But it works to it's advantage. Even though this is the case, it does not detract from how the main performances play out. The gothic element act just as that, an element and thankfully only informs a small aspect of the performances the actors. The actors do not become drowned by what is around them on stage, as what happens sometimes with well intentioned screen adaptions of other novels (ITV's adaption of Dracula and the recent TV adaption of Wuthering Heights come to mind as prime examples of this).

If there is any deserving production that needs to be seen on DVD is this one. As much as I appreciate the fact that we get to see these Encore performance it has whet my appetite more than ever to see the production brought to DVD.
However would ask for original. Rather than a new screen version of the stage play. There is something special that the people involved with a stage play capture that can rarely be captured if it is done again another time.
However, if a new screen adaption of the play is done, it would have to have the feel of the original theatre experience. An interesting production shown on BBC Four is the RSC production of Julius Caesar. This combined perfectly some footage which captured the essence of the stage production whilst adding newly shot footage. This didn't detract from the production, it would seem to be the only true way to capture the  true essence of what was achieved on stage. Whether we will eventually be lucky enough to get a DVD made of this performance does, however sadly remain to be seen. Although, there is no particular reason to which this could not happen, in fact I sincerely hope that it is. The material is still available, and not only that but it has been cut even like one would cut a film for a DVD release. The behind the scenes footage is all preserved in the form of the Channel Four documentary. It is merely a matter of collating both version and adding the documentary for a release.


Comments

( 2 scratched — Scratch me )
wiliqueen
Jun. 27th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)
Love your insights. Thanks for sharing!!

I would dearly, dearly love to have a DVD of this production in any form. It's one of the most memorable theatre experiences of my life.
lionesskeeper
Dec. 3rd, 2013 11:18 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked. :D

I would love if they decided to give it a DVD release. It is fantastic.
( 2 scratched — Scratch me )

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