Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, to most, fairly familiar territory. Its eponymous hero is up there with other such classic horror beasties as Dracula, the Mummy and werewolves. Such creatures always seem slightly on the musty side, that is, until you are given the opportunity to get up close and personal with them. Director Daniel James does just this with an adaptation of the book sharply written by David Campton.
For those unfamiliar with the tale, Frankenstein concerns the occult work of Dr Victor Frankenstein in the depths of the 1800s. The young, naïve doctor pours his mortal energies into the artificial respiration of his “creation”, a man constructed of bits and pieces of the recently deceased. Playing god however takes its toll on the doctor, whose dream turns into anything but.
James tells us his “aim for this new version of David Campton’s play is to present a fresh take on a much known tale, with a few changes to make it new and exciting for Brisbane audiences” and the result speaks for itself. James achieves a certain edge with a production that is both compelling and gratifying to watch. Shannon Miller, to whom much credit is due for this achievement, plays Frankenstein with earnest fanaticism, but leaves room for a waggish dose of childlike gauche. Perhaps a fairly bizarre comparison can be drawn with Maxwell Smart from the hit ’70s series “Get Smart”. His misdirected enthusiasm creates an endearing charm and gets more than a few laughs.
His gracious friend and confidant, Henri Clerval, complements this. Played by Christopher Vernon, Clerval is witty as the cosy English gent, providing a necessary conscience and sense of reason for his over-zealous friend. Vernon is also a good example of the fine casting associated with this production. Not only does he perform with relative ease, but seems to be completely suited to the role.
Louise Garvin is also excellent as Frankenstein’s forlorn love interest Elizabeth Lorenza. The play opens with her haunting serenade, and throughout she carries herself with a certain Gothic allure.
Justine Moritz plays Bridget Royce, Frankenstein’s unfortunate housemaid. She is suitably timid in the part and ultimately pays dearly for his macabre research.
Other members of Frankenstein’s household are Judge Clerval (Henri’s father) and Madame Couper. Michael Frearson plays the Judge with presence and a sense of authority while Gwenda Bright is suitably comical as the melodramatic Madame.
Then there is the creature played by Dominic McGrath. He is lurching and pervasive on stage, but still maintains a certain infantile confusion.
Costume design for the creature in particular was superb. Art director Martin Pedder and costumier Iris Stacey have done an excellent job with simple and effective designs. Particularly endearing was Frankenstein’s gadgetry. Long sharp looking things; square smoky things and big metal clunky things that go zap. I wasn’t disappointed. As noted in the show program, the Tim Burton and Hr Giger influence was evident and well applied, providing weight to some of the pivotal moments in the story.
Sound design also contributed greatly to this, inviting the likes of Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson and Angelo Badalamenti (think David Lynch’s Lost Highway) to create Gothic/industrial ambience. This worked well, but did seem sporadic at some points, detracting from the possible creation of tension.
Things do get loud and flashy, but this seems to be over before fear has a chance to hit home. This is also particularly so for the creature, with a relatively minor build-up to his emergence on stage, and while his stature is certainly something to be reckoned with, there is probably a little too much of the human about him. The sinister monstrosity that strikes fear into the hearts of his peers on stage probably needs more mystique about him to have the same effect on the audience.
Such remarks are picky however and there were certainly several shrieks (of laughter and fright) in the pews and I think all patrons, including me, had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Congratulations to all involved.