‘Frankenstein’ rebroadcast is dazzling, brutal
The National Theatre in London is known for groundbreaking and innovative theater and, as part of an initiative to bring their best work to a broader audience, several productions each season are broadcast in movie theatres worldwide.
Rebroadcasting their 2011 production of “Frankenstein” starring Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock,” “The Imitation Game”) and Jonny Lee Miller (“Elementary,” “Trainspotting”) has become something of a Halloween tradition. It plays the Showcase Cinema in Warwick on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.
When “Frankenstein” was first dramatized in 1823, women fainted in the aisles and critics wrote, “Do not take your wives and daughters.” I’m not the fainting type, however, I nearly leapt out of my seat in several moments, and when I saw the production for the first time, sat in silence until well after the theater emptied, unable to process, let alone discuss, what I’d witnessed. Cumberbatch’s performance is a tour de force; however, the graphic and disturbing violence deserves a trigger warning.
Adapted from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel, “Frankenstein” is an emotionally charged and visually stunning exploration of the frontiers of our creative and scientific ability, our yearning to belong, and our vast capacity for viciousness.
The show opens with a great swollen and pulsating membrane, a womb grown so large and taut we see the outline of a hand as it presses outward, looking as if the life inside might burst forth in a violent and bloody explosion of organs and flesh.
The Creature who emerges is covered with scars, his skin held together with crude stitches. His limbs writhe with muscle spasms as he clumsily tries to gain control over them. He pads and lopes around like a toddler swaddled in a baggy diaper, wailing at the cold and bursting with joy at the touch and taste of soft grass. We begin to see the innocence, intelligence and curiosity. We inhabit him.
His creator, Victor Frankenstein, basks in the glory of his handiwork, praising his skill: “Excellent tissue, the sutures have held!” He’s repulsed, however, at the grotesque figure he’s pieced together; terrified, he abandons the helpless Creature.
From there, things go horribly wrong.
The Creature’s first view of men is a Steampunk locomotive fueled by chained men who move the gears, one of the most visually glorious moments of the production. Full of fear and hostility, the men look at the grunting, scarred Creature and beat him with clubs. At every turn, the Creature is misunderstood, rejected and scorned.
Victor Frankenstein, having created and abandoned his first creation, withdraws into a narrow world that results in chilling consequences for the fiancée (Naomie Harris) who longs to bear his child.
The Creature befriends a lonely blind man (Karl Johnson), who teaches him Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” It is the first kindness he’s known and he flourishes. Language unlocks his intelligence, giving voice to the depths of his loneliness, his need to be part of society, and his growing recognition that acceptance is impossible. He understands, “I was cast out like Satan though I did no wrong.”
When the blind man’s family rejects him, the Creature is a cauldron of fury: “My mind once filled with dreams of beauty is a furnace of revenge.” His response is swift and detestable.
His actions grow more atrocious; he hunts Frankenstein, who realizes the Creature, whom he finds physically repulsive, is the first intellectual equal he’s known. Through anger and argument, they seal a desperate agreement, their facial features and stance hardening as their ruthlessness grows. Treated with brutality and responding in kind, the Creature sets traps, leading to some of the most violent and repulsive scenes of the evening. Yet, no matter how violent and repulsive, it’s difficult to lose all sympathy for this Creature, and that gives the production its power and heart.
As the Creature tells Frankenstein, “I am part of you; you made me.” He is a haunting indictment of the cruelty in us, and how it gets created.
“Frankenstein” runs two hours without an intermission, with mature content and disturbing violence.