“Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity and ruin.”
While a central theme of Mary Shelley’s 1817 novel, the dichotomy of prosperity and ruin can also be extended to the relative successes of theatrical adaptations of classic texts. Put simply, they are usually very good or very bad. With this quote fittingly placed at the end of the credits, the adaptation of Frankenstein presented by Castle and Green Door theatre companies certainly belongs to the former category. Deftly exploring the haunting dualities of good and evil, creator and monster and what it means to be living, the play is entertaining and prospers through its well-crafted production and talented cast.
The most striking part of the play is the innovative use of illustration to enhance the audio. The work of illustrators Adeline Zhao, Anna Kuptsova and Jasmine Cash here is simply stunning. As someone with the attention span of a small gnat, a radio play is ordinarily not best suited to my interests. However, the illustrations captivate and guide the audience through the narrative. The switch in image style, for example, is cleverly used to signal temporal changes in the narrative in a way voices alone would struggle to connote.
It is this careful consideration of the medium where the play triumphs. Adapted by recent graduate Sophie Wright, the script retains the essence and lyricism of the novel while ensuring its suitability for radio. The best example of this is Victor’s use of a recording device as a replacement for the letters featured in the original text. It is a valuable inclusion: not only does it provide a close interiority of Victor’s anguish, but also a structural element for distinction between scenes. However, while initially intriguing, the constant use of a tape splicing noise here quickly becomes jarring and repetitive across the performance which, standing at 1 hour and 40 minutes, is too long.
At the heart of the play is two compelling central performances. Both Ben Willows as Victor and Tom Cain as the monster are remarkable in their subtlety and nuance. Cain particularly is meticulous in his depiction of the monster’s evolution from initial wonder and goodness imparted by the blind old man (elegantly played by Richard Sharpe), to his final warped revenge.
The writing here is impeccable: complex and haunting, the intimacy of the characterisation leaves the audience uncertain of who the real villain is. My only criticism is that such a progression (or ‘character arc’ to use a crass term) was lacking from Willows, with Victor appearing equally deranged from beginning to end. However, this is a minor and interpretative qualm unrelated to Willow’s performance or ability.
The supporting cast is also noteworthy. Naomi Cook is excellent as the effusive and earnest Elizabeth, while John Freda displays unparalleled dynamism in his portrayal of both the bubbly Henry and Victor’s nonchalant father. It is frankly incredible that the audio for each character was recorded in separate sessions. The fact that the play does not feel at all disjointed is testament to the strength of the cast and dedication of the whole production team. Co-directed by Saniya Saraf and Harry Jenkins, the complete blend of illustrations and audio effects is professional in quality. If this is the standard of theatre produced virtually, we have a lot to look forward to.
Image: Castle Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company