Last week, Fractal Theatre launched a new chapter in both the book of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the history of the Arts Theatre on Petrie Terrace in Brisbane.
As the first ever indie theatre company in residence, Fractal is planning on breathing new life into the old theatre as they reanimate that long misunderstood monster of Frankenstein’s creation. Below is an excerpt of a recent interview with Brenna Lee Cooney about the upcoming production and working with the Arts Theatre.
How do you go about adapting a novel for the stage?
She [Mary Shelley] was 18 when she wrote it to start off with, so the concept that she has is absolutely fantastic but the fleshing out of the characters is not so great. She’s written brilliantly for the monster and she’s written brilliantly for Frankenstein but the other characters she’s just given a very brief sketch of what they’re like and the women in particular are very underwritten and almost that stereotypical doll-like character; so when it comes to dramatizing it, all you can do is expand on that. For example Clerval – Frankenstein’s best friend, is in-love with everything Eastern: philosophy, literature and wants to go to India so he’s reading Arabic books and Hindu books so you grab that and you flesh that out and you see him as an early nineteenth century hippy off on his search for nirvana and you extend that in the character in how he dresses in how he moves in his general attitude to life.
What can we expect from Fractal’s Frankenstein?
It’s got an amazing soundtrack [composed by Eugene Gilfedder and performed by Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney], almost all the way through and original score based heavily on the minimalist work of Steve Wright, Glass and Brian Lucas has been working with the actors and we’ve had one girl over at Flipside [Circus] learning how to work a German wheel. She’s had some amazing, dangerous experiences running over her fingernails. She’s had to have a crash course in circus skills and now she loves it.
I’ve also taken that one step further from the novel and brought the corpse bride onto the stage. In Shelley’s book, Frankenstein is at the point of completing her and he then destroys her. That wouldn’t be very exciting for the audience so we’ve got the corpse bride, he is bringing her to life and then changes his mind and of course the monster sees that so there is this amazing pas de deux between the monster and his dead bride-to-be.
What qualities do you look for when you are casting?
They have to have the typical naturalistic skills; they can connect with the text, the understand it; they can make it real and truthful and honest. Then I tested them all for singing – they’re singing through-out as well – not musical type singing – but folk singing – some beautiful thirteenth century French songs, there’s a love song sung in Farsi and Irish sean nos singing which they’ve all had to go and learn. The desire to want to learn and to be open to learning different things is important. I look for an openness to work in an ensemble and be supportive of each other.
Did you have the Arts Theatre in mind for staging this?
No. It’s really fortuitous that it all fell into place. Ron Kelly had taken over the Arts Theatre and he approached me and said we’d love Fractal to be our resident company. It’s the first time we’ve ever sublet to an indie theatre company and we would like Fractal to be our first experience of this.
For those lucky enough to attend opening night, Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney will provide some mood music by playing The Red Violin Caprices.
Frankenstein plays at the Arts Theatre from 3 – 18 May with some special midnight performances during the season (audience members are encouraged to come dressed-up, with a reward for best dressed).
See www.artstheatre.com.au for more information and bookings.