Sunday, February 13, 2011
Frankenstein @ The National Theatre
Last night we saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Johny Lee Miller in Frankenstein at the National, directed by Danny Boyle.
We saw Cumberbatch as Victor and Miller as the creature (they alternate the roles at each performance, emphasising their duality).
This is a challenging production in many ways.
We arrived early and saw Danny Boyle come out of the auditorium. The house didn't open until less than 15 minutes before the performance started. I suspected they were trying to fix some things (it was only the 6th preview; the set is a masterpiece, though putting the bell in the audience quickly looses its novelty).
The production has a raw, visceral opening. The creature, vulnerable and struggling with the shock of life, like a newly born calf, spends the first 15 minutes flailing around on stage, totally naked. (I wonder if Cumberbatch will be as bold when he takes on the role).
It is a totally physical performance for those first 15 minutes. It was obvious, physically, that Miller was totally energised. A side effect of being so physically tuned in to being the creature newly created was a brief and (I'm fairly sure) unintentional display that he was also physically turned on.
It was a thrilling production, taking the audience by surprise on more than one occasion. Some very real gasps of shock escaped from the audience.
Cumberbatch is a brilliant detached but flawed Frankenstein, Miller a sympathetic reasoning creature whose disfigurement hides a beauty underneath.
Despite the leads the production wasn't perfect. There were some confusing casting decisions. M. Frankenstein, father of Victor and William, is played by black actor George Harris, distracting from the plot while I tried to work out if Victor and his brother were adopted. Was it a nature/nurture thing? Whatever it was, the actor's decision to use an Afro-Caribbean accent, so different from Victor and William's stood out confusingly like a sore thumb; and besides, the actor was just plain weak in the role.
The accents of Orcadian's Rab and Ewan were so not Orkney accents (which are very unique to the Islands).
There were a couple of set malfunctions, one of which spoiled the illusion when an actor ended up walking across the lake, to help the boat sail offstage.
Still, I'd want to see it again with the leads playing the alternate roles.