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VICTORIA FRANKENSTEIN


Frankenstein 

Darlington Hippodrome 20 October 2023

Reviewed by Michael Jarvie

 

 

Written by Sean Aydon and performed by Tilted Wig, this bold theatrical reimagining of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein not only concerns itself with the reanimation of bodily parts but also undertakes an experiment which is just as radical, namely swapping the sex of one of the main characters. Hence, Victor Frankenstein becomes Victoria.

         Set in 1943 during the later stages of World War Two, and taking place in a non-specific location, Frankenstein opts to utilise its own dialogue, rather than borrow from the novel. Structurally, it follows a non-linear ABA arch form, with the opening and closing sequences acting as a kind of frame, so that the meat in the middle of this sandwich comprises an extended flashback.

         Act One, which runs for 45 minutes, begins inside a remote cabin in the mountains of an unnamed country. Eleanor McLoughlin plays the solitary figure of the resourceful Captain, and the same actor also successfully takes on the role of another character later in the story.

         Arming herself with a revolver, the Captain interrogates a visitor, who turns out to be Victoria (played by Lula Marsh). We already know enough about such matters from Chekhov to be able to anticipate that, after its introduction at the outset of the story, the gun will be discharged later.

         The encounter between these two women is a tense one, and it’s apparent that they are both on the run. The dialogue eloquently captures Victoria’s predicament. When she seeks information about the Captain, she is brusquely told, “It’s my hut. I ask the questions.”

         After a rapid scene change, the rest of Act One is taken up by backstory. We are now presented with the lab – two arched windows at the rear of the stage, storage cabinets to left and right, and the predictable gurney centre stage. Annette Hannah, who herself has achondroplasia, plays Victoria’s busy lab assistant.

         Cue the expected reanimation scene. Believing that the procedure has failed, Victoria abandons the Creature on the gurney only for him to show signs of life, whereupon he decamps. Cameron Robertson’s performance here is thoroughly convincing, employing as he does his impressive physical acting skills to bring the character of the Creature to life.

         At this point, the curtain falls.

         Act Two, which also lasts 45 minutes, takes up where we left off and links the action to the political backdrop. An emissary of the ruling regime proposes a Faustian bargain with Victoria – namely the provision of research funding, with strings attached. The prospect of developing a superhuman warrior, unclouded by conscience, is understandably an appealing idea for a totalitarian government.

         There is also the inevitable encounter between Victoria and her creation, whom he addresses as “mother”. As in the Mary Shelley novel, the Creature expresses his desire for a mate. When this is not forthcoming, there can be only one outcome.

         The final scene brings us full circle, returning to the hut in the mountains. Mirroring the opening, it is now the Creature who makes an unexpected appearance. Having sought out his creator in order to exact revenge, he departs, reciting Hamlet’s famous speech, “What a piece of work is a man,” which segues into the same character’s final words before he dies “the rest is silence”.

         Unlike the end of Withnail and I, where the Hamlet soliloquy is also used to great effect, the Creature is not prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune any longer and Chekhov’s gun is discharged off stage. As for aligning himself with Hamlet, the Creature is more of a Caliban figure, albeit even lower in the scale of being since he lacks that quintessential human attribute  – a name.

         Delving deeper into the mechanics of the play, on balance, the World War Two setting could have benefitted from greater development. By transporting a work to this era, there often seems to be an unspoken assumption this will bestow upon it added gravitas, but that’s not the case here.

         The theme of eugenics, for instance, doesn’t quite fit. Consider the fact that Victoria’s assistant has achrondroplasia. In Act Two, for example, she goes to a function thrown by the hierarchy of the ruling party and returns in tears, having been humiliated because of her physical disability. Any self-respecting scientist would have known that this reaction was entirely to be expected and would have advised her against attending.

         The Creature, as a theoretical fascist foot soldier, a super weapon made flesh, rather goes against the entire ethos of the übermensch, who is more than human, not a patchwork quilt of body parts. The killing machine that Victoria has cobbled together is certainly not what they are looking for. Indeed, he’d be one of the first for the chop.

          

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