A gothic ballet spectacular based on the classic novel
Choreographer Liam Scarlett has shown before that he likes to let his imagination take him (and us) to some very dark places. His ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and the Ripper-haunted ‘Sweet Violets’ were unnerving plunges into the shadows; Mary Shelley’s morbid gothic fantasy ‘Frankenstein’ seems a perfect fit.
The classic horror story about a young man’s reckless experiment and its dire consequences, is ripe with themes to mine – about power, responsibility, humanity and the limits of science. Scarlett concentrates on its love stories: that of the medical student Victor Frankenstein and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth, and its mirror image, the rejected love of the Creature for its creator, which curdles into bloodthirsty revenge.
The first is fondly evoked, as Federico Bonelli’s brooding Frankenstein and Laura Morera’s sweet Elizabeth sweep round the stage in their duets, with more than a nod to the impetuous, youthful joy and tender urgency of MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Elsewhere, though, Bonelli tussles with the fact that Frankenstein, although at the centre of the plot, isn’t given much of a voice and often seems to be outside the story looking in.
But there’s fun to be had when the production reaches joyous heights of B-movie nuttiness inside designer John Macfarlane’s magnificent operating theatre set, complete with gurgling steampunk machines spewing sparks.
Bonelli shines in a solo that shows his desire to reanimate the corpse on the table is driven by grief for his mother. And Steven McRae’s terrible Creature suggests wretched loneliness, childlike naivety and animal cunning, which twist together into virulent hatred before our eyes. The game of blind man’s bluff he plays with Frankenstein’s little brother – who happily accepts the playmate he can’t see until he takes the blindfold off – is a nicely creepy addition to the tale.
The sense of threat builds, helped by Lowell Liebermann’s cinematic score – but the strange, hallucinatory quality of the last act, where the Creature crashes Frankenstein’s weirdly anachronistic wedding party, adds confusion and dissipates the narrative thrust. Cut away the flim-flam, however, and there’s a terrifically desperate struggle between the monster and Elizabeth (which feels like a genuine fight for life), a highly charged confrontation (finally) between Frankenstein and his creation, and a flurry of deaths to rival the last scene of ‘Hamlet’. Not perfect, then, but good fun.
BY: SIOBHAN MURPHY