Frankenstein @ Northern Stage 23/02/2017

The second of Greyscale’s brace of Queens of the North plays takes on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring the same cast as Hedda Gabler, also performed at Newcastle’s Northern Stage. Adapted again by Selma Dimitrijevic but directed this time by Lorne Campbell, Dimitrijevic has made several major changes to the original novel, including swapping Victor Frankenstein for Victoria, and the monster from a created ‘man’ to a man brought back from the dead.

The set is a delight, and the lighting wonderfully atmospheric. Polly Frame delivers a brilliant performance as the lead character, charming and likeable despite an obsession with her work that leads to her being more upset with the death of a rabbit used in her experiments, than with the death of her own brother.

Ed Gaughan is a fantastic monster, and his monologue on the confusion of life a real highlight. If life is confusing enough when born through natural means, the monster’s confusion is magnified tenfold when his life can be solely put down to another’s experiment. His dishevelled appearance, physical disabilities and terminal health condition add further weight to his musings, for having been given a second life, he is in pain and already dying.

Although delightfully ambiguous, this adaptation adds an intriguing extra level to the novel’s central theme. If Shelley asked what to do with life once you create it, Dimitrijevic extends this by asking: why bring back the dead? Although Victoria attempts to justify her work in the name of curing disease, there’s a cloudy motive present that perhaps even she fails to realise until her dream comes true.

It’s in the final scene with Victoria and the monster that the reason behind the gender-flipping of the lead role becomes most apparent, and in listening to the monster’s story her human side comes to the fore. By becoming close to the monster she appears almost maternal, and her final willingness to engage with him feels like a recognition of her responsibilities. Unlike in the novel, the play ends with scientist and creation side by side, suggesting they have something of a future together – however short – and it’s a touching conclusion to a highly cautionary tale.

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