Avital Carno gives her thoughts on CellarDoor’s dark reimagining of Nick Dear’s Frankenstein, lurking in the Bierkeller Theatre until 11th May.
The shadowy arches of the Bierkeller Theatre provide an apt setting for this disturbing theatrical exploration of human nature. Dry ice, coloured lighting and music emerging from the recesses of the stage’s darkened scaffolding also work towards creating the enveloping eeriness that pervades the play’s opening, as the Creature writhes on stage in apparent agony less than a metre from the audience’s feet. The opening prefigures the tone of the performance; there is an immediate drawing out of the audience’s pity for the Creature. This sense of pathos disappears at times, obscured by the monster’s undeniably awful deeds, but nevertheless runs through the play like a thread, continually reappearing.
Akshay Khanna plays the role of the Creature—he alternates the role each night with Thomy Lawson— who is the dominant focus of the play’s first half. Khanna’s performance is excellent, particularly during his use of physical theatre to give the impression of a non-human being finding itself within an unfamiliar body. This striking physical performance is later shared by Clare Hennelly as the Creature’s bride, although Hennelly’s movements are less visceral and more balletically graceful; this difference in movement serves to emphasise the Bride’s intended role as the Creature’s feminine antidote.
Khanna’s physical transformation is especially striking and effective: his naked torso and limbs are wreathed in scars and dark red sutures—here stands a truly menacing figure, tall and lean in its savaged clothes.
However, the opening half’s focus on the Creature does not allow for much development of other characters, and this makes it difficult to engage with the action at times. Peter Borsada in the role of De Lacey is an exception to this: his warm performance conveys all the gruff kindness of the old man and the poignancy of his blindness. Moreover, the initial focus on the Creature’s loneliness and anguish remains within the minds of the audience into the second half of the play. This adds a more complex dimension to the dramatic action: it is difficult for the audience to condemn the Creature’s murderous tendencies entirely having witnessed his cruel treatment and suffering at the hands of men.
The play is woven with several original touches. The falling of snow is represented by actors fluttering books across the stage; the grace of the actors’ movements evokes the beauty of the snowflakes, which helps the audience to share in the Creature’s endearingly child-like joy at the phenomenon of the weather. William Frankenstein is played by a puppet, a production choice which conveys his importance as a plot-device and a symbol rather than a character in his own right.
Frankenstein’s action-filled conclusion raises several important philosophical dilemmas. The Creature’s discussion with Frankenstein leads one to ponder on the relationship between creator and creation, and the extent of responsibility of an inventor for his work, or more widely, of a parent for their child.
Equally central is the play’s implicit questioning of human nature, which is brought to a climax by the Creature’s claim that it has learnt to behave as a monster by copying humankind. Overall, the CellarDoor Theatre Company’s take on Frankenstein is original, engaging and visually savage. This is one not to miss.
CellarDoor’s Frankenstein runs at the Bierkeller Theatre until Thursday 11th May. Tickets are available here.
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