As much a tribute to Mary Shelley’s classic novel as a way of scrutinising its themes from a 21st century perspective, SISATA Theatre’s Frankenstein straddles the past and the future. Written by John Foster and directed by Charmaine K Parkin, the ‘Creature’ at the centre of this tale isn’t the obsession of one driven man, but a team of scientsts for a corporation.
As you would expect, the leader of this team is ‘Frankie’ (Neelam Parmar) though in the first instance of subverting the gender roles, ‘he’ is a ‘she’ AND pregnant. The father of Frankie’s baby is her colleague Eris (Frank Leon), though that relationship has long since ended. Eris has been ‘seeing’ another colleague, Xero (Seth Tonkin) who has one thing in common with Frankie – they both don’t like to be defined by their sexuality. While Frankie could possibly be construed as ‘bi’, Xero thinks of himself as straight. In any case it’s evident later in the play he’s had issues with how others have perceived him from an early age. What with gender fluidity being such an important part of the team, it’s inevitable that it over overspills into their ‘creation’…
Far from being like the anonymous, ‘grotesque’ Creature of Shelley’s fertile imagination, Angel (Emily Rowan) is a prodigy, even compared to her ‘forebears’, and shows exceptional cognitive, emotional and artistic development. And dare we say it – a ‘soul’… However, as in every creation myth, once some boundaries have been crossed, things can’t be reset to how they were.
While technology and eugenics are very much the rationale behind the project to make Angel, the play eschews the trappings of sci-fi or modern medical paraphenalia. Instead, an ‘experimental’ approach has been taken, with the adoption of traits from the earliest forms of theatre – masks, choreographed movement and percussion, as well as esoteric objects utilised from centuries ago. By taking this approach, this production of Frankenstein has a physical quality that the Ancient Greeks would recognise.
While ‘the Creature’ in Shelley’s novel is often described an abomination – something that mocks ‘life’ and ‘death’ – the onus of ‘blame’ in this production can be traced to the team who opened the ‘doors of perception’ for Angel. Why? Well, while ‘memories’ and other ‘material’ have been ‘reused’ from previous efforts by the team, in reality they have being laying dormant in Angel’s psyche, waiting for the right nudge to bring them to the surface. This poses some interesting questions for the audience: is Angel’s gender dysphoria a result of ’cause and effect’ or is it ‘her’ way of rationalising the disparity between what she feels and what she sees?
In most modern narratives that deal with ‘artificial’ life and ethics, a person’s psychosexual development is seldom taken into consideration. However, this production takes it leads from the likes of Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, in that it’s not afraid to ask difficult questions and takes a holistic view of things.
© Michael Davis 2018
Frankenstein runs at Bread & Roses Theatre until 23rd June (7pm).
It will then continue its tour at:
8th July – Lewes Castle
19th July – Pentridge Village Hall
21st July – Upton Country Park, Poole
25th, 26th, 27th & 28th July – Brighton Open Air Theatre