Let’s face it, Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein at the National Theatre was always destined to be a ‘monster’ hit. Performances are sold out and London theatregoers currently scour the South Bank in the hope of returns. Thankfully the kind people at NT Live decided to broadcast two performances of the production at cinemas across the country. The first screening took place last week (17 Mar) and the next one is this Thursday (24 Mar) although the Cornerhouse has a further screening planned for 24 Apr.
At this point I urge you to stop reading and book your tickets. Done? Ok, now I’ll tell you why that’s the best £10.50 you’ve spent in a long time. Firstly it’s Danny Boyle. Yes, the Radcliffe-born director is best known for films such as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire but rewind 20 years and it was in the world of theatre that he cut his teeth as a director and first discussed the notion of staging Frankenstein with Nick Dear. So why stage rather than screen? “Movies have done so much to distort the story,” explains Boyle, no doubt referring to the Hammer horror depictions of mad scientists and green monsters on the loose. “We wanted to give the creature his voice back.”
Nick Dear’s adaptation sticks closely to Mary Shelley’s original tale (bar the rechristening of the ‘Creature’ and the finale) and although there were some who criticised Boyle’s choice as “tired” and “conventional” this reanimation is anything but; where else have you seen the two lead roles alternate each night? “In terms of the performance, Frankenstein and the Creature literally create each other: every other night they reinhabit each other,” says Boyle. For this he needed “‘two stonking actors with the arrogance to feel no fear,” and he’s found them in Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch.
If I’m honest I had hoped to see Miller as the Creature; I imagined he would bring a brutish edge. However, Cumberbatch was a revelation. From his unnatural birth via a Da Vinci-esque drum and a scene of excruciating writhing as he takes his first steps in a world that initially fills him with wonder (one truly beautiful scene scored by Underworld sees him shower beneath the rain) yet ultimately rejects him. His performance is honest, at times humorous yet horrific.
Add to this Mark Tildesley’s design, Bruno Poet’s throbbing light display, a sinister yet inspiring score by the aforementioned electronic duo and a cinematic finale that will leave you spellbound. This is a story that remains in the memory, as challenging today as it was on its first publication in 1818. “People think this is a horror story about a monster, but it’s not,” explains Miller. “It’s about abandonment, companionship, prejudice, and sin – are you a product of your environment, or is evil within you?”
For details of venues showing Frankenstein see: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ntlive. On 24 March Jonny Lee Miller will play the part of the Creature with Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein.