Danny Boyle, National Theatre, 2011
Tardy to the party, I know, to have to catch up with this through an NT Live ‘encore’ screening, but whatevs. The extreme expressionism of the staging was a bit of a surprise at first, heralded by the early arrival of a steampunk train, a (heavyhanded) intimation of the oncoming industrial revolution, accompanied by a dance routine that suggested an all-singing all-dancing musical version of Shinya Tsukamoto’s body horror sequel, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.
The monster itself, played, in the version I saw, by Johnny Lee Miller, a man of whom I have no expectations whatsoever, was a wonderful creation: part Peake’s Steerpike, part Perfume’s Grenouille. Erudite, fiercely intelligent, idealistic but eventually amoral, if not psychopathic, he positions himself as a new Adam, but is more of a charismatic fusion of Caliban and Aerial, athletic and lithe, but with elements of stroke patients’ rehabilitation worked into his body language. The scenes between him and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein are electric, and, rightly, the (black) heart of the production (I feel like I saw the casting the right way round, albeit accidentally; of the two, Cumberbatch inherently has the right sort of scornful aristocracy to be the scientist rather than the experiment).
Outside of the central pairing, the secondary characters are oddly comedic, in a way that feels almost damagingly misplaced, and there are some puzzlingly eccentric choices, for example in the music; it’s hardly subtle, but I can take the occasional bursts of industrial techno - a flamenco bride-of-the-monster dream sequence though…? This isn’t ‘total theatre’, in the sense of the medium appropriating a full, movie-style sound design palette and complete score, and, ironically, given Danny Boyle’s day job, the filming of the show is rudimentary, full of ‘showy’ aerial shots, but often frustratingly short of the perspectives and full-stage views you’d get if you were actually in the Olivier auditorium.