Fractal Theatre’s first production as the Brisbane Arts Theatre indie resident company opened over the weekend with an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein.
Adapted by Brenna Lee-Cooney, with original music by Eugene Gilfedder and choreography by Brian Lucas, this production is an intense, dark piece of theatre, incorporating physical theatre, song, mime, and melodrama. Using heightened language, the text is thick and requires full concentration to understand everything that is being said. It seems fitting that this heightened piece spills over into physical theatre with movement dream-like at times and melodramatic at others.
It is a hard task to convince an audience to go along with a horror story on-stage when they are used to the smoke and mirrors of movie magic on the big screen, however, a stunningly talented cast (with some undertaking multiple roles), under the inspired direction and design of Brenna-Lee Cooney, made it easy to transport us into various locations of Shelley’s gothic world with little actual scene changes.
Cameron Hurry showed true commitment and stamina to the physical demands required of the creature. His grotesquely contorted movements transferred through the audience giving a visceral sensation of awkwardness and pain, which is remarkable achievement in itself. His rigid movements did become less obvious throughout the show, as did his speech, as the monster became more used to his body and educated about the way of the world. Hurry also was a great choice for his emotional vulnerability, which allowed the audience to sympathise with this outcast who committed horrors, not because he was intrinsically bad, but out of a reaction due his victimisation. This gave depth to the piece and gravitas to Shelley’s fundamental concept that human beings discriminate against people based on physical or racial attributes, those they don’t understand, fear, or think are ‘monsters’.
Andrew Lowe as Victor Frankenstein was brilliant in transforming from the promising science student to more of a monster than his own creation as he knowingly allows the horrors to continue. With obvious intelligence and talent, Lowe shows promise as a leading actor. Not having come across this actor before, a small bio in the program would have helped to get to know this actor (and the rest of the cast) a little more.
Zoe de Plevitz as Frankenstein’s perpetual fiancé Elizabeth and the ‘corpse-bride’ was perfectly cast in these roles with her sweet, svelte Victorian look and manner. Her music-box like tip-toing across the stage borrowed from vaudevillian melodrama was comical and at times it was uncertain whether this was to provide a moment of relief or simply unconventional for the sake of styling. The scene, which struck as the highlight for the show, was the pas de deux between the creature and the corpse-bride. It was beautiful, strange, disturbing, and tragic at the same time.
Thomas Yaxley as Frankenstein’s loyal companion and student of Eastern mysticism, provided some much needed relief with his humourous physicalisation of text, and Eugene Gilfedder as Frankenstein’s father and various other roles was adept and detailed in all characterisations. Having him open the piece as the ship’s captain put the audience at ease from the beginning, with the comfortable knowing of a steady hand supporting the rough ride ahead.
The set design by Chancie Jessop was expectedly dark and gothic looking with draped material over the backdrop with the symbolic Da Vinci Wheel on a platform at the back, center stage. Geoff Squires provided a wonderful lighting design to add atmosphere, which was only fully realised when the technically proficient actors hit their marks. This production also featured original music compositions performed by Imogen Gilfedder-Cooney and Deanna Connolly (Violins) and Andy Leask (Cello).
Over, Fractal Theatre’s Frankestein was an accomplished, fully realised piece of theatre with all the near-perfect mix of elements including professional cast, atmospheric original music, and great set design with inspired direction. However, with the heightened language used in the novel, the dense intellectual wordiness of it all was a bit much to digest, so maybe a little more prudent editing in the adaptation would make this piece a triumph.
Frankestein is playing at the Brisbane Arts Theatre till 18 May.
For more information, see their website: www.artstheatre.com.au