While blood and guts are the current staples of the horror genre; April De Angelis is recounting a subtle 1818 classic of yesteryear. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is celebrating its 200th anniversary at The Royal Exchange with a jovial production that breathes life and a needed brevity to the reflective narrative. The novels old-world dialogue is given a tongue in cheek approach, with the elongated passages relaying Frankenstein’s frame of mind, fleshed out through flashbacks.
During a mission to conquer the North Pole, Captain Walton’s ship is stalled by ice and impacted by a random traveller. After stumbling upon the fever-stricken wanderer named Victor Frankenstein, the Captain drags the stranger aboard and asks him to recount the journey that led him astray.
Suspended in darkness and fused with atmospheric music, the audience at the Exchange are taken through Frankenstein’s account. It is a nimble production that somewhat removes the melancholy from Shelly’s long-winded monologues by concentrating on capturing the novel's themes of loss, vanity and ambition. A revolving cast of characters and props assist in questioning who the real monsters are, while filtering the narrative down in a glossier and more entertaining direction.
Anchored by a fantastic cast, Shane Zaza (Frankenstein), Harry Attwell (The Creature) and Ryan Gage (Captain Walton) offer a Frankenstein fused with comedy and tension. Playing distinctive characters, that overlap in characteristics, the cast circle the Exchange with a momentum that stops the narrative from feeling stagnant. Although this is a timeless novel, the show implements edits and inflections that the dejected, pen-wielding protagonist of the novel lacked.
With its novel purposefully framing women as disposable attractions devoid of sense, Shanaya Radaat (Elizabeth/ Safie), Nicola Solane (Mother/ Prof Waldman/ Witness) and Esther McAuley (Justine/ Prof. Krempe/ Agatha/ Kirwin) take multiple roles, two filling in as men despite the large cast. Regrettably, the cast were often let down by the overshadowing music that drowned out their dialogue, although the story translated effortlessly to the audience.
Director, Matthew Xia’s constructs unexpected elements and hidden designs that made use of the Royal Exchanges height and hidden depts. Bringing thunder, fire and rain into the round theatre, where continuous movement and a forceful cast shape the scope of the story. There are also moments rooted in silence and suspended in darkness, where the fear of the unknown and the intimate spacing produce scenes that are particularly unnerving.
In a prison of his own making, Frankenstein chooses to retreat into the recess of darkness and chase after his discovery. Frankenstein is a story that reenergises societies fear of medical research, but the contemporary narrative of its time has since progressed. Angelis’s new adaptation is far from a new discovery but what she has developed is a more engaging, entertaining and frightening Frankenstein.