Written by Films


I had plenty of opportunity to book theatre tickets for Frankenstein, even going so far as to look at seats. But for whatever foolish reason, I decided against it. The production was a hit, and all the tickets sold out.
So last night it was off to the Odeon Kensington – the only cinema carrying the NTLive relay that I could buy tickets for – to see the second of two live transmissions. The previous week, Johnny Lee Miller had played Frankenstein while Benedict Cumberbatch was his monster. I saw the reverse casting, with Miller spending the first ten or fifteen minutes learning to become the monster, until he’s finally befriended and taught to speak and read. As he later says, he can assimilate information very well.
The performances are both very strong, although Frankenstein really doesn’t have much to do until the second half of the play.
The staging is fantastic. I was impressed with The Most Incredible Thing the other night, but this outstrips it entirely. There are seemingly thousands of lights strung from above the stage, and the Olivier’s turning stage is used very cleverly. At one point a remarkable “steampunk” train appears, and we experience both rain and snow.
The script is witty, although the play charts a relatively inevitable course. Whether that’s because we know the story so well or not I couldn’t say. I’ll admit that although I’ve seen possibly dozens of versions of the story – and have the classic Universal versions on DVD at home awaiting a watch following Mark Gatiss’ recent History of Horror – I’ve never actually read Mary Shelley’s novel. So I can’t really comment on how close Nick Dear’s writing is. But this is clearly Danny Boyle production with strong use of music and visuals.
I must admit that technical considerations did taint the experience for me. The pictures were out of sync with the audio all evening with the sound coming a little earlier than the pictures. I find that unnervingly distracting, but I suppose that at least a certain proportion of the play was shot quite widely. If the play had been shot as a film, with full close-ups all the way through, then it’d have been worse. The camera did zoom in a certain amount, but this was certainly directed as a covering a stage play – not a film.
The other problem was the aspect ratio. I’m not sure exactly what they did wrongly since the performance was clearly shot in 16:9 ratio, but nonetheless, everyone was stretched on the screen. Again, I find this irksome and highly noticeable.
I should also mention that we heard extraneous sounds at one point – the director? And the audio died entirely for about 5 seconds in the final scene which was not a good time.
Overall, I’d do the same again if there was a play I really wanted to see, that I couldn’t actually get along to the National for.