Frankenstein was never really about a scary monster. Rona Munro’s revised version of the seminal gothic horror novel places 18-year-old writer Mary Shelley (played by Eilidh Loan) as the key protagonist, wrestling with what it takes to create the perfect ghost story. On tour, it stopped off at Canterbury’s The Marlowe Theatre for four nights.
‘Fiction holds up a better mirror to the world than any list of facts’ says Mary. We see her adding in characters, musing on themes, deciding on plot twists, and creating the story that we are all so familiar with today. She roams the stage in a long leather coat, wielding her pen, reader to inflict drama and damage.
It’s a horror tale, but one that deals with so much more, such as the place of women, revolutionary spirit, what it means to be a creator, and personal responsibility. Mary asks outright ‘What are we? What is nature?’ Mary’s conscience is tussled by all of these issues, as her novel plays out behind her, sometimes taking over and causing her to query ‘is it real or is it a story I write?’ She’s funny, and wry, connecting with the audience through short and sharp asides. ‘Now that was a proper deathbed scene,’ she boasts. ‘You’re welcome.’
The stage is stark, off white, and chilling, acting just as well as the icescapes of the Arctic as the library of Frankenstein’s family. Eerie and provactive, it’s the perfect place for a psychological drama to unfold. The monster (Michael Moreland) is out for murderous revenge, and capers around with speed and ferocity as he seeks to harm. There’s always more to discover in the world, and Dr Victor Frankenstein’s (Ben Castle-Gibb) pioneering spirit comes across well. He’s an avid and ferocious learner, just like Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron were, without whom the novel would never have been written.
The actors double and even triple up, which can get a bit confusing, especially in such a fast paced production. The audience needed to know the story before attending – this is not a place to come to cold.
It is a story that has been told and retold in hundreds of different versions since it was first written, but at its heart is a rebellious and potent statement from a young author. ‘This is the story of a man facing up to his own creation,’ says Mary, early on in the play. It’s testament to her abilities that over 200 years later we are still exploring this issue through Frankenstein. This meta textual version is a great way to do that.
The production is touring until the end of November. It is directed by Patricia Benecke, with composition and sound design by Simon Slater, lighting design by Grant Anderson and designed by Becky Minto.