A bell rings once, the lights of an electric pulse start the fully grown creature on its way out of the man-sized birthing sack. The doctor confronts his creation and screams the famous words: “No stay away! Do as I command!”
The opening for Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Frankenstein attempts to remove the monster movie formula. For the last decade, media knowledge of the story came mostly from the horror films by James Whale; Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein in particular. But lately, we’ve seen a resurgence of many key questions from Mary Shelly’s novel. We watch a creation abandoned as it learns to walk, read, write, and then question his creator. While in the past, the focus has been on Victor Frankenstein and his obsessions with becoming a ‘modern-day Prometheus,, today it is about an abandoned project chasing down it’s ‘God’ to find meaning.
Without giving the story’s highlights away (which are some of its strongest points next to the amazing set designs), each concurrent scene acts as a philosophical debate between both main roles. At the same time one runs from his past, the other is looking for a future. While one lives a life of bourgeois tradition and longs for a deific freedom, the other is nurtured in poverty. The two actors who dominate this performance (Benedict Cumberbatch and Tommy Lee Miller) were clearly eager to find both the links and the separations their roles had, and by switching the roles night to night, they inevitably presented how the two characters came as a unit; that an actor needed to understand both to play either.
To be opinionative, the showing of Cumberbatch as the monster is the preferable watch. Miller finds an aggressive active persona as doctor Frankenstein, and Cumberbatch can give a childish innocence for the monster at his beginnings. As the show goes on both shine within their roles, Miller’s scene describing Frankenstein’s experiments practically gives the character his story in the play, and the many confrontations of the two are placed with how the characters are fighting the conflictions within their own souls. There you find the Godwinian resurgence. The play gives the creature back its voice and takes out the doctor’s madness. These men are opposed only by a symbolic link that keeps both from aspiring until the other is dead. It is two equals, both desiring a chance to be great.
Arguably, Boyles adaptation is the most reviving production in decades. Watching it can help rip away many of Whale’s redesigns for people new to the franchise. But the real worth of it all is the play doesn’t see a reason to tell you “It’s alive!”, there’s too much ethics for that…