A horrifically honest play that highlights the real struggles of the mind and heart.
Writer: Nick Dear
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller & others
Based on the novel by Mary Shelley
Running: For 5 years & above.
This play was the rebirth of Frankenstein’s creature as well as the rebirth of Mary Shelly’s words that were given a vision by Danny Boyle and scripted into perfect bits by Nick Dear. I wasn’t aware of this play all these years until recently when a friend informed me that National Centre of Performing Arts, Mumbai (NCPA) was screening a play based on one of the most famous gothic novels that we briefly studied about during our English Literature course. She also exclaimed that one of the leads in the play was BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH. On reading that, I mentally booked the tickets! I know, a live play is always better than a screening but trust me, even the screening of this was brilliant!
The play began with the birth of an “innocent monster” that fell right out of a womb-like prop with a loud thud followed by naked jolts and for fifteen long minutes, a fully grown man struggled to pick up his limbs in a balanced posture till he learned to run. In that moment we saw a child that ran for the very first time and later how he discovered a lot more the world had to offer, leaving the audience overwhelmed! The brilliance of this scene was glorified with the gorgeous light bulbs that roof the auditorium. It added the perfect visual effects which enhanced the scene to another level of awesomeness. [I would absolutely love to own a similar chandelier with those gorgeous bulbs in all colours for my future home.]
Since the “monster” was a fully grown man his mind was already developed and hence the process of his learning was swift with the old blind man (played adorably by Karl Johnson) whom he eventually torches into ashes! He understood the greatest of tragedies and pointed out the fact that most of this world was destroyed due to personal egos and personal revenge. A nameless, grisly, abandoned man questions the injustice of this world he was made in!
Why do we herd together in cities for mutual help yet massacre one another, he asks. “I do not like inconsistent! Why must it be so?
He learns to read poetry and desires to be loved. He quotes “Paradise Lost” when he encounters with his creator, Victor Frankenstein. The symbolism in this scene is remarkable and makes us think about the society we live in, that turns us into evil from good. He pleads his creator for a woman-like companion with whom he would live in isolation and be in love and promise not to cause any harm to any human being. Victor promises to recreate a woman as it would be a challenging task and another extravagant accomplishment but he doesn’t keep his word. The outrage that breaks thereafter is tragic.
Boyle & Dear’s allegory is a true work of genius! The set was designed to perfection and every element and prop used, was so realistic. The place and time were managed beautifully in every scene. The revolving stage, the steaming engine, the rain, the fire, the lights, the womb structure, the mountains, the cabin, the wedding room and the final scene in the arctic ice where the cold-hearted creator and his creature disappear into oblivion.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller play the roles of Vicor and the Victim. This mastery of switching roles in each play tells us how both the characters are in fact one and the same. I witnessed Benedict play the role of the monster and he did far better than my expectations. Also, the make-up given to the “freak” is creepy and on point! Benedict’s body language and the way he delivered each dialogue was dramatic and dazzling!
I sympathized with the character of the monster, till the end, although he did do nasty things! This world, the people, and the circumstances shape us into who we become and that just feels so unfair but at the end, it is in our hands to make the final decision. As for Victor’s character, Jonny played it exceptionally well and I would love to see the play again with the roles reversed. I also enjoyed the scenes with Victor’s to be wife Elizabeth played by Naomie Harris, she made the audience laugh quite a bit with her curious questions and puzzled reactions!
This play ends bleakly but as a whole, it is an astounding allegory that everyone must watch at least once in their lifetime! It is visually breathtaking, emotionally overwhelming and mentally creepy. I hope I get the chance to see the play live next time and get hysterical watching the horror repeat itself!