Guest reviewer David Wicks shares his thoughts on The Ensemble Theatre’s Frankenstein.
I’m probably the wrong person to review Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre’s new production – FRANKENSTEIN.
After all, at the age of 11 (before I discovered girls were much more fun) I became obsessed with the old black and white Universal horror films from the 1930s and 40s. Films like Dracula, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man and, of course, James Whale’s Frankenstein, which made a star – a huge star – out of Boris Karloff.
So why am I the wrong person to cast an opinion over this new stage play that England’s National Theatre premiered two years ago? Because I loved the movies – try as I did I could never get into Mary Shelley’s 1816 novel as I found it tiring, lumpy and far too wordy.
Happily, Nick Dear’s stage adaptation of the book is a far cry from my own childhood analysis. Opening night at the Sydney Opera House, and the audience – as well as viewing the confronting, compelling and agonising birth of the creature as the play opens – witnessed the emergence of a new talent on the Australian stage: Lee Jones gave an incredible performance as Frankenstein’s creature.
Rarely off-stage during the near two hour production, Jones contorts his body into unbelievable angles during the confronting ‘birth’ scene (conceived and directed by Mark Kilmurry and the actor Lee Jones during a series of movement workshops they held early in rehearsal) and continues to move about the stage in what can only be described as multiple sclerosis spasms.
Dear’s script divides the story into four chapters – the birth scene (jaw gapingly brilliant) – the encounter with the blind hermit who teaches the monster speech and how to understand his emotions – the creation of the creature’s mate: his bride – and the final chase over the ice to the North Pole where the climax takes place.
Director Mark Kilmurry astutely whips his acting team into a performance frenzy – in the wrong hands Frankenstein could prove a disaster – but Kilmurry knows how to pace the play with accurate timing and delivery.
You can’t fault the supporting cast … all play their parts (some play several) with a polish indicating they know they’re involved with something special. They all excelled.
The set was so simplistic; vintage electric globes hanging from above, a transparent scrim on a circular track enhancing (and blurring) certain scenes. This worked for the proscenium stage at the Playhouse, although it will be interesting to see this design transfer to the thrust stage of the Ensemble from April 17.
Costumes? I loved the ‘nod’ to the black and white days of the Universal horror films and the occasional ‘splash’ of red showing respect to the gothic Hammer revival of the late ‘50s.
This Frankenstein is Fabulous.
At the Sydney Opera House until April 13, 2013.
Then at the Ensemble Theatre from April 17 until May 4 2013.