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Review Round-up: Is Frankenstein a Monster Hit?

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Oscar winning director Danny Boyle has returned to theatre to direct an epic version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which had two press nights at the NT Olivier this week (22 & 23 February 2011, previews from 5 February).

The production stars Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch (recently seen at the NT in After the Dance), who alternate in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature he creates; critics were invited to view both variations.

Written by Nick Dear and designed by Mark Tildesley, the supporting cast includes Karl Johnson, Andreea Padurariu, Steven Elliott, Mark Armstrong, Haydon Downing, George Harris, William Nye, Naomie Harris, Ella Smith, Jared Richard, John Stahl and Lizzie Winkler.

Frankenstein continues in rep until 2 May 2011. Here is a selection of reviews posted so far...

Michael Coveney

"After the first of the two first nights of Nick Dear’s Frankenstein … I was thinking five stars. After the second first night - Cumberbatch as the Creature, Lee Miller as Frankenstein - I’d settled a bit grumpily into three star mode … Lee Miller is brilliant and moving as the Creature, Cumberbatch more interesting, more systematic, more graceful and much funnier; but the real difference is in the title role, who figures only after the extraordinary opening 40 minutes of nude writhing and Wayne Eagling-style thrashy modern choreography … Danny Boyle’s return to the theatre as a director is a flashy, noisy, exciting affair, and his designer, Mark Tildesley, manages to make the Olivier look a different place … The creation under duress of a naked mate for the Creature is eloquently conveyed by an elegantly starkers Andreea Padurariu, and her destruction is as shocking as that of Victor’s fiancée, beautifully played by Naomie Harris, though neither lead actor expresses why he should just sit there and watch.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“We are required to feel the dazzle and terror that the Creature endures, for in this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, too long vulgarised into horror films and monster cartoons, the writer, Nick Dear, and director, Danny Boyle, come fresh to the wonder and fear of it by taking the Creature’s point of view. If he is a monster, it is only because he meets abuse and blows. It is a hell of a production: the set itself conveys unease, rising and revolving into harsh surprises. But it is the Creature that mesmerises, developing a jerky, defective, heartbreaking eloquence as ideas and desires invade him … Cumberbatch astonished in the monster role, moving into a zone of physical expressiveness and otherness we have never yet seen; and his scenes with Lee Miller’s tougher, hoarser Frankenstein worked even better than the first way round … At the 1823 dramatised version, ladies fainted in the stalls and critics thundered: ‘Do not take your wives and daughters!’ We think we’re tougher now, but I nearly fell out of my seat at the shock bridal-chamber scene. Twice.”

Michael Billington

"What you get in Danny Boyle's production and Nick Dear's adaptation of Mary Shelley's mythic fable … is neither shlock nor satire. Instead it's a humane, intelligent retelling of the original story in which much of the focus is on the plight of the obsessive scientist's sad creation, who becomes his alter ego and his nemesis: it's rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban's point of view … Cumberbatch's Creature is unforgettable … It is an astonishing performance. Miller's strength, in contrast, lies in his menace. Stockier than Cumberbatch, his Creature makes you believe in the character's Satanic impulse and in his capacity for murder … But when it comes to Frankenstein, I felt Cumberbatch had the edge in that he offered clearer hints of the scientist's cold-hearted single-mindedness … Dear and Boyle highlight the feminist critique of male usurpation of divinity that lurks in Shelley's text. Above all, they constantly make us ask which of the two main characters is the real monster. Is it the disfigured, repulsive Creature or Frankenstein himself with his subordination of love and friendship to the idea of creative perfection?”

Paul Callan
Daily Express

“This is no Hollywood/Hammer-style version of the old tale with a grunting giant sporting a bolt through his neck, a la Boris Karloff … This creature, liberated by knowledge, is a sensitive intellectual who recites Milton and only wants true love. The villain of the piece is humankind, who rejects his intelligence and shows him evil. Danny Boyle has returned from films to direct and the result is, for the most part, a mesmerising evening … Mark Tildesley’s sets and Bruno Poet’s lighting effects are highly original. Yet, despite the action and power of Messrs Lee Miller and Cumberbatch’s individual performances, the script often dragged as badly as the Creature’s foot when he learnt to walk.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"I can report that both versions are well worth seeing. Miller, however, strikes me as the more disturbing and poignant monster, while Cumberbatch undoubtedly has the edge as the scientist who is ultimately revealed to lack the humanity of the unhappy creature he has created … Boyle, returning to the theatre after his Oscar-winning success with Slumdog Millionaire, pulls off something truly spectacular here. The Frankenstein story has become so familiar that it might seem an impossible task to make the old story seem fresh. Yet somehow Boyle does just that, constantly creating shocks, spectacular coups de theatre - the lighting effects alone are worth the price of admission - and scenes that tug at the heart. The music by the electronic duo Underworld is a blast, too … The play doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gory horrors - the fate of Frankenstein’s bride is particularly grisly - while the final scene is as bleak as anything in Beckett. The production may be intermittently hobbled by dud dialogue and second-rate supporting performances, but at its best there is no doubt that Frankenstein is the most viscerally exciting and visually stunning show in town.”

David Benedict

"Boyle and Dear, who first discussed the project 20 years ago when working at the Royal Shakespeare Company, have focused instead on the central relationship. So much so, that almost the first third of the novel has been binned in order to open at the most fiercely dramatic moment, the ‘birth’ of Victor's nameless creature … Dear's linear adaptation strips scenes down to so bare a minimum that the supporting actors have nothing to do but supply exposition. Karl Johnson struggles manfully to bring depth to the blind man who unwittingly takes pity on the creature, but the rest of the worryingly overemphatic cast collapse into caricature … The show's strength lies with its stars. Benedict Cumberbatch is more hard-edged in both roles … By contrast, Jonny Lee Miller uses his natural warmth to expressive effect, giving more heart to the creature … But the puzzlingly inconsistent production asks serious questions about the National's literary management, principally, how could a script this weak have made it to the stage?”


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