Just the title of this post is a little shocking to me. I have never cared for the horror genre, at all. I have never watched any of the Freddy Krueger films or anything else in that category. The closest I have ever come to the genre, I think, is my enjoyment of The Walking Dead, which has horror elements. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I even thought “Frankenstein” was the name of the monster, not the scientist! However, when I found out that the 2011 National Theatre production of Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, was going to be shown last night at a local cinema, I was really intrigued. I’m pretty fond of Cumberbatch, and I wanted to see how well a live theatre performance would translate onto the big screen (in case I get the opportunity to attend a screened performance of The Crucible, naturally!) Mom, who isn’t a particular fan of horror either, but who is nevertheless a great theatre buff, agreed to go as well.
I must say, I was riveted by this production! It came really close to the level of The Crucible for me, and that is really saying something. I loved the set- it had an almost steampunk aesthetic, and the whole atmosphere was eerie yet beautiful. I found it quite suspenseful, because never having read Mary Shelley’s novel or watched the movie, I had no idea what the plot was about, other than the vague idea that a monster was created by a man. What I thought was fascinating, though, was that apparently Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller switched it up and played either role throughout the run. (I’d like to go again at the second screening tomorrow, to see if we get the opposite version… but I have other commitments.) The performance screened last night had Cumberbatch as the Creature, and Miller as Frankenstein, and Cumberbatch, in particular, was phenomenal.
His portrayal of the newly born Creature, his first bewildered awareness- of being- was a masterclass in creative visual arts. From his gasping, awkwardly loud and impaired vocalizations, to the shuddering wriggles and increasingly spastic movements as he mobilized the imperfect amalgamation of his form into bizarre locomotions and ultimately attempted to gain his feet, were just spectacular. I was astonished to find myself in such sympathy with the monster, but something about his performance was just incredibly endearing, as he experiences the sunrise, discovers the grass and the rain and the feel of hunger pangs. The viciousness of the horrified humans the Creature encounters, and the dawning awareness of his unloveliness, and his loneliness, struck a chord with me. I wanted to step in and offer him the kind touch, the gentle word.
Of course the Creature progresses in his self-awareness, as well as his awareness, through miserable experience, of the inhumanities, large and small, of mankind… and play goes on to explore concepts I hadn’t really been anticipating. I did expect to explore the follies of man “playing God”, but the questions of the effects of human interaction on cognitive development, nature versus nurture, parental responsibilities and neglect, and the psychology of isolation/rejection hadn’t occurred to me. The play was quite tragic, and immensely thought-provoking. Frankenstein did create a monster, in the end, but my feeling was, it didn’t have to be that way. The true monster was created after Frankenstein, and the rest of us, failed to show the Creature grace.
Food for thought.