Adelaide Repertory Theatre
The Arts Theatre
Until 14 Apr 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’, a piece of work that is often cited as one of the first examples of science-fiction. The story delves into deep questions of humanity, scientific ethics, and the importance of personal connection. There have been multiple incarnations of the characters and ideas, and many modern audiences would already have their own vision of them, most likely from cartoons, without ever having read the book. This adaptation was written by Nick Dear in 2011, and forgoes many of the original plot lines and structure of the novel, choosing to tell the story almost entirely from The Creature’s perspective; the titular character barely appears until Act II. As a result, the central question becomes one more of nature versus nurture, and Victor Frankenstein’s creation becomes a figure of empathy. In more capable hands, the play has the potential to be a powerful exploration of the nature of human nature and the lengths to which science should have the power to manipulate it. Unfortunately, the Rep’s production suffers from a lack of a clear directorial vision, an uneven tone, and stilted, hammy performances.

It is difficult to bring something new to such well-known source material, and director Kerrin White has attempted his own take – spending most of his Director’s Notes in the program explaining how he hasn’t seen the original National Theatre Production – though there is limited cohesiveness to the look and overall style of this production. Ostensibly a Gothic tale, the dark themes are undercut by a distinct lack of tension. A sense of real danger and drama is noticeably absent, largely due to the over-the-top performances delivered by the cast. The most effective moment of the show is the opening few minutes, with The Creature alone on the stage discovering his new found and confusing life. The audience is allowed to sit in the moment, and there is a nuance in Steve Parker’s performance that resonates deeply. Any sense of that nuance, however, is soon lost as the play moves on, with clunky transitions that cut the tension, and very few emotions presented by the actors seem authentically felt. The production produces more laughs than tears, and it’s unclear whether this was intentional. And while the laughs are welcome because they keep the show from dragging, it strips away the power of the more harrowing scenes.

The design of the show also doesn’t help, with a minimalist set that is reminiscent of a high school production. White has chosen to use projection and sound effects to set the tone, but they’re ultimately distracting, and the use of video to highlight the violent events was painfully ineffective and jarring. The make-up design of The Creature seems to want to differentiate the look from the bright green, bolted image we’re used to, but it fails to be as terrifying as the reactions around him seem to suggest. The Creature either needs to be more visually confronting, or leave the look to the audience’s imagination. Coupled with the fact that much of the make-up rubbed off throughout the course of the show, and one scar fell off entirely, the intended effect was lost.

Parker’s performance is to be commended; it is a thoughtful and carefully constructed character study, and he keeps the show moving. He conveys the duality of The Creature’s plight, and he manages to invoke both sympathy and terror. The rest of the cast lack any subtlety in their performances, and the uneven tone sometimes makes it feel like everyone is in a different play. Other elements, such as an inconsistent use of accents, and some very awkward blocking, get in the way of any real emotional impact.

This production either needed to play up its campier elements for a purely fairytale, comical effect, or focus more on the quieter moments and attempt to bring some realistic human emotion into it. That being said, ‘Frankenstein’ remains entertaining throughout, and the choices made in the script may be interesting to those familiar with the original text. The ideas presented in the play still resonate today, and have the power to provoke real discussion about what makes us who we are, and the role of science in modifying what that means. It’s shame this production fails to deliver on so many fronts.