Victor Frankenstein (Salford)

Ambitious but flawed, says David Cunningham of this retelling of the famous Mary Shelley tale.

Kings Arms, Salford
Kings Arms, Salford

The ambition of Mary Shelley in writing the novel Frankenstein is well known: it was intended as a horror story. Unfortunately the objective of Rose Biggin in scripting Victor Frankenstein is nowhere near as clear. This is a well-staged production with a promising opening but a confused ending. The transposition of genders (with a woman playing the title part and a full-bearded man taking on a female role) is actually one of the least puzzling things about the play.

The play opens with Victor Frankenstein making an impassioned attempt the set straight the record about his creation of the creature that, in future years, will mistakenly be referred to by his name. Victor describes how his childhood fascination with biology developed into a darker passion for alchemy leading to his discovery of how to reanimate dead tissue.

Biggin’s script conveys the innocent sense of wonder that Victor feels in the presence of nature – upon cutting his knee he is more interested in studying the result than seeking a plaster. Yet the script never really explains how this innocence was perverted so there is no tragic sense of a noble character gone wrong.

There is little self-awareness in the character. Shelley’s version of Victor was repentant; telling his tale as a cautionary parable to discourage others from the sins of vanity and ambition. Biggin’s interpretation is someone whose enthusiasm descends into fanaticism. This combination of the innocent and the extremist is captured in Fiona Paul’s portrayal of Victor as a schoolboy enthusiast who never quite grew up. Paul gives Victor the hectoring voice of the school prefect – constantly booming out his pleasure in life and love for his cousin – together with dangerous staring eyes. This approach is not, however, entirely suitable for a play as fanatics lack the self-doubt that makes a character dramatically interesting.

Director Amy Liptrott conveys the character’s over-enthusiasm with a breathless production. Victor is so anxious to get his point across that Fiona Paul strides up the aisle and sits amongst the audience chatting one-to-one. The gothic sense of the classic movies is captured with Victor’s discovery of alchemy being shaded by ghoulish green lighting.

Full concentration on the play is hindered by a number of niggling distractions. The humour in the play is not so much amusing as silly. Joe Bateman’s interpretation of Victor’s cousin, the couple frolicking in the forest and Victor’s gauche courtship are deliberately exaggerated. You can’t help but wonder about the use of modern phrases and swearwords in a period drama.

A late plot revelation clarifies the reason for these inconsistencies and is certainly a helluva surprise. Unfortunately it also undermines pretty much all that has gone before leaving the audience struggling to find a point to the play.

Victor Frankenstein is at the Kings Arms in Salford until 22 February.

– Dave Cunningham