Castle Theatre Company, and particularly director and adapter David Knowles, definitely took on a challenge with their adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, often seen as the epitome of Gothic fiction. The result is an absorbing retelling of a classic story which tries valiantly to live up to the original masterpiece, matching it in intensity but falling short in some other areas.
The script revolved around storytelling. Although the plot relies on stories within stories, I felt that this was slightly overdone. In parts, for example, the early narrative of Frankenstein’s life, the play felt a bit like a dramatic reading of the novel. Things did improve as the play progressed, however, the language throughout remained quite stiff and formal, perhaps trying too hard to stay faithful to Shelley’s prose style. Transitions between the narratives did work well though; they were handled simply but very smoothly with changes in lighting, coats, and physicality.
Staging the production in the round was, on the whole, quite successful. The early scenes felt slightly rushed, with characters entering and exiting quickly from various different directions. For the remainder of the play this worked well. The sounds of creaks and opening doors coming from all directions added to the slightly jumpy atmosphere, increasing the gothic appeal.
Hugh Train was superb in the title role. He gave us an excellent depiction of the brilliant scientist’s growing obsession and arrogance, followed by an agonising study of the mental torment he unleashes on himself through his own creation. The manic expression in his eyes was menacing at times and his powerful voice carried impressively.
Natasha Yadav was equally captivating as the Creature. Her speech felt fittingly unnatural and laboured, as did her movements. The scene in which the Creature discovers the use of her senses was incredible. It was an almost perfect piece of physical theatre, delicate and enthralling, with a great choice of accompanying music. It just steered clear of melodrama towards the end and overall the effect was gripping.
The casting of a female as the Creature provided the perfect opportunity for a more contemporary interpretation of the text which would have been interesting to watch. Perhaps this was thought to be unnecessary or distracting from the main issues. Nevertheless, it does raise some intriguing questions which the audience member is left to ponder in their own time.
Some of Frankenstein’s scenes could have benefitted from a similar approach to that of the Creature’s. I felt there was a need to linger more over emotional moments, rather than moving quickly on to the next scene. This could have eliminated much of the dialogue which described emotional states, often in an unnecessarily drawn-out way.
The other characters were not given very much to work with and there were some minor problems with projection. However, all were successful and provided a solid support for the two leads. George Rexstrew and Georgia Cassarino stood out for me.
The lighting was simple but effective. It helped to create an eerie atmosphere around the Creature and was particularly impressive in the final scene; the slowly fading light left us in a deeply pensive mood and this scene had a good sense of finality. The reversal of positions between the Creature and her creator gave a feeling of closure, of coming full circle.
I felt that the production would have worked better as a one-act play, as the second act was very short and the first act could definitely have been cut down.
Overall, this was an engaging and haunting piece of theatre, with fine central performances. I would definitely recommend taking the time to see it.
Photograph: Livia Carron