National Theater live due to popular demand brought back the performance that was recorded of Frankenstein starring Jeremy Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch just in time for the Halloween showing.
The Director took the brilliant step of having the idea to have both leads play both title roles. What to say is during one performance Jermey Lee Miller would play The Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch would play Victor Frankenstein on the next night they would swap roles. This reviewer saw the performance in which Jeremy Lee Miller was the Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch was Victor Frankenstein.
The opening sequence of the play is intense and something that you want to look away from but you can’t. There are few ways to truly get across the emotion you feel when this creature emerges from something like a womb and all he can do is flail and grunt. It is painful, but then you watch him as he teaches himself, he learns to work his limbs he tries to walk and fails but eventually he gets it.
Miller brings a child like innocence to these first parts right down to even take his own foot into his mouth. The only time we see Frankenstein during this process is when he shows up and is startled, he throws a cloak and then runs away screaming, rather like a girl. Not even kidding on that part. You feel for the creature then all he was doing was reaching out for some kind of connection, he had just come to life and had no control but he was cast out.
From this point the play follows the creature out in the world where he is constantly being attacked and thrown aside by everyone he meets. He cannot speak so there is no way of communicating and everything seems to think he is a monster. There is one woman who he saves who, while she runs away screaming at least does not kick and beat him to make him go away.
There is another moment when the sun comes up and he is so joyous, so intent on the beauty and the warmth you could nearly feel it coming through the screen. How could anyone not like this man, even though he looked as he did? He wallows with joy in the rain and the grass, but his joy is short lived, he ends up being beaten again, but at least he managed some pants from it this time.
The story continues finally our Creature finds someone who does not judge him. An old man who is blind. He shares his food and then he begins to teach the Creature. It is interesting to see how much compassion is shown here when the man can’t see but he does touch the Creature his way of seeing, so he knows there are nasty wounds that do not seem to heal but still he shows heart and he teaches.
The old man has a Son and a Daughter in law who he insists the Creature should meet. He refuses and time goes by, we see the seasons change and we see the Creature learning more and more. He has a friend and he is very smart reading the likes of Milton and more. As payment for the teaching and the food he gets he does things around the farm for the Son and Daughter in law, picking stones from their field chopping wood catching them game birds and dressing them. Until one day they come home and he is about to flee, but is convinced by the Old man’s promise that he will be accepted to stay.
He of course is not accepted and the Daughter in Law and Son do like every other human has done. They scream at him and beat him the Daughter in Law screaming thrash him. It is another moving performance and it breaks your heart to see him go through this again. He runs off but he’s overcome by rage.
Sadly that rage turns into vengeance. You see he has read about all the great Romans and they would always get vengeance when it came time against enemies. The Creature sets the house on fire while the people are in it, we never see them escape so we can assume they didn’t. From there he runs and leaves again, finally turning up where he knew that Frankenstein was from some children are playing and one turns out to be Victor’s brother William so the Creature steals him wanting to be his friend saying they will do all sorts of things together. Sadly the boy is returned to his family dead.
Finally, in this we see Benedict Cumberbatch again Victor first sets out to look for his Brother and then is the one who finds the body and pages from his journal. Safe to say he now knows who did this and he goes to look for the Creature soon after.
What happens when he finds him is a scene that will resonate again with audiences. It was moving and so well preformed you could see the gear changes in Victor’s mind. He goes from anger to interest at his creation, to pride back to anger. Finally, however he begins a bargain with the Creature. All he wants it seems is a wife, someone like him who will not reject him. It takes a great deal of bargaining and the performance between them is amazing, finally they come to an accord.
What follows is another picture of both brilliance and madness as Frankenstein works on the creatures bride. What he brings out is a bit of artwork, indeed artwork and not fully animated. You can get a little uncomfortable again when you see how he is worshiping his own work and how intimate he gets with her in moments, nothing obscene but you remind yourself is is a corpse. Then, however he breaks his word and destroys her. Not very well played for his part.
From there the play brings itself to the fever pitch of Frankenstein getting married and the Creature taking his wife. I won’t give away the end, but it is truly an amazing play. The whole company is amazing from start to finish, but Jeremy Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch truly do shine in these roles. Anyone who has not seen this performance truly needs to try. While I can only speak for the version I saw I imagine Cumberbatch plays an amazing creature as well and I can’t wait to see it in reverse.
It is fantastic to finally see a version of this story that gives the creature a true voice. In most modern telling through the movies the Creature has been reduced to a mindless beast who does nothing but groan and moan. He has no voice you cannot hope to understand why he does what he does. In this production, however he is humanized. So much so that when they share the stage you can see the many similarities between the creator and the monster. Which of course is part of the point and likely one of the reasons they did the flip casting. This was a true pleasure to sit and watch. Well done to all involved.