On the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it can be hard to grab the attention of theatregoers with another stage adaptation of the novel. But with its interesting interpretation of the classic, Arrows & Traps Theatre Company’s Frankenstein stands out from the crowd for including the novelist herself as a character within the play. Although this has the potential to come across as a cheesy gimmick, writer and director Ross McGregor’s choice to place her in the story actually gives a glimpse into the life of the woman behind this legendary tale, which produces an effective piece of theatre.
The show opens with a middle-aged Mary Shelley (Cornelia Baumann) suffering from an illness, experiencing flashbacks to her youth, and weaved into these personal stories is Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Tester) is a young scientist, interested in new inventions, constantly reading to broaden his knowledge, and struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother. Alongside this narrative, there is also that of his Creature (Will Pinchin), who, after being rejected by Frankenstein, is in hiding and befriends a blind young woman who teaches him to speak and read. At the same time, Shelley’s own life is in turmoil – she has eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man, at the disappointment of her father, and has a series of miscarriages. The parallels between her life and the story of Frankenstein is evident, and both culminate into tragic loss.
Baumann is exceptional as Mary Shelley. Her interpretation of the character is fully recognised, combining the author’s intelligence with her talent, while also creating someone the audience can sympathise with. It’s always inspiring to see a multi-layered female character on stage, and it’s equally enjoyable when the actor delivers this character with strength.
As with all other Arrows & Traps shows, the ensemble work is on point, with strong direction from McGregor. Some notable performances include Pinchin as the Creature, who brings a perfect balance of terror and sensitivity to the character, with small bursts of comedy, which helps humanise him. Zoe Dales as Agatha, the blind woman who teaches the Creature how to speak, is worth a mention too, as the scenes between her and the Creature are some of the best in the piece. Full of emotion and subtly written humour, they’re a joy to watch.
McGregor has created an engaging and unique adaptation, with a well-written story and some welcome surprises. Ben Jacobs’ lighting design brilliantly elevates the ghoulish atmosphere, foregrounding the story’s magical element: electricity. What makes this Frankenstein stand out from the others is the fact that the audience gets to see the woman behind the monster story, her intellect and talent for writing, as well as her family and how a series of tragic events may have shaped her. Arrows & Traps’ play is a successful addition to the company’s innovative adaptations, and a perfect show to see this October.
Frankenstein is at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 21st October.