Marking the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, the latest production of Frankenstein is written by Isabel Dixon, Burn Bright Theatre’s in-house playwright and producer. Arguably the first example of ‘science’ used in a novel, Shelley’s novel was all about ‘transgressing natural law’ and ‘unnatural appetites’. Writing a novel at a time when literature was generally seen as a man’s vocation, Shelley was only too aware of the use of subtext. This particular production utilises a primarily female cast to re-tell Frankenstein from a feminine perspective.
Adopted by the Frankenstein household, Elizabeth (Danielle Winter) finds emotional solace, as well as a well-rounded education – at a time when women seldom had such opportunities. The death of her ‘parents’ galvanises her will to possess the secrets of life and death. As we all know this backfires, but putting physical distance between herself and the ‘problem’ doesn’t make it go away…
In this particular production, relationships drive the motives of all the characters. In any good story, this should happen anyway, but with Elizabeth it is her empathy for other characters – an extension of the ‘charity’ she was shown initially. Similarly, Justine (Charlotte Peak) – another ward of the Frankensteins – continues this empathic tradition, caring for others less fortunate, simply because one can. Without being didactic, this of course alludes to the ‘duty’ that women should look out for each other, especially if one holds a position of privilege or sees someone else in a vulnerble position. Simply put, it’s about paying it forward.
Elizabeth’s relationship with ‘the Creature’ (Elizabeth Schenk), however, is more complicated. Empathy is absent here and in some ways their dynamic can be compared to Prospero’s with Caliban in The Tempest. Had Elizabeth recognised her ‘kinship’ with this ‘other’ woman and her responsibility to her, the events wouldn’t have unfolded the way they do.
Under Katherine Timms’ direction, Frankenstein has a fluidity in its energy and storytelling, much like her production of Vernon God Little. Sarah Lawrie, Carlton Venn and Justine Moritz play all the other roles, giving substance and souls to what easiily be ciphers in lesser hands. Lawrie, in particular, shows the same physical virtuosity as demonstrated in the Hope Theatre production of Madame Bovary.
If one element of this production can sum up the difference between ‘tradition’ and being a woman, it’s the choice of the Creature’s ‘companion’. As we all know, a ‘mate’ was originally considered so that the Creature wouldn’t be ‘alone’. In this production, the Creature desires a ‘child’ – not as a whim of scientic curiosity, but to preserve life and be needed. In short, to be a ‘mother’ and have a purpose. Once created, the bond between ‘parent’ and ‘child’ is unbreakable…
© Michael Davis 2018
Frankenstein runs at The Space Arts Centre until 10th March.