Rona Munro’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic horror story puts the author at the centre but at what cost to the story itself?

(c) Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

In her programme foreword, writer Rona Munro states that above all else she hopes that this play terrifies the audience. Well, it might not terrify the audience as such it does offer a chilling and contemporary reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic horror story.

Placing the young author herself right at the centre of the story, Rona Munro attempts to reclaim this female written story from the hands of all of the male adaptations over the years. From this perspective it is fascinating to see how as the story progresses her frustration with characters such as Frankenstein and fear as to what she herself has created reveals her innermost character. Mary Shelley is revealed to be a person of great passion and imagination – yet at the same time her increasingly cynical attitude towards the story becomes slightly wearisome by the end that you do wonder why she didn’t just get rid of the story if she was that frustrated by it.

The other slight issue with this adaptation is that although on the one hand it wants to add a biographical element to the story, ultimately this has to be reconciled with telling the story of Frankenstein itself. To see Shelley jumping into scenes with her characters can be slightly disorientating and disruptive to the plot, particularly during moments of high tension. But on the other hand, the monologues she makes to the audience can add moments of humour and add additional depth to the story.

However, there are plenty of other elements to Patricia Benecke’s chillingly atmospheric production that keep hold of the gothic feel of the story. In particular, Grant Anderson’s consistently imaginative and electrifying lighting design and Simon Slater’s haunting sound design really grabs the attention. This is highlighted when the creature himself is brought to life and commits horrifying atrocities, presented in such a way that the audience is not liable to forget easily. It is consistently pacy and energetic – sometimes too much so that certain scenes can feel rushed through at the detriment to the story telling.

But the performances from the cast are all excellently delivered. Ben Castle Gibb as Frankenstein brilliantly captures the scientist’s obsession with life and death as well as the sense of increasing horror that he faces when he realises what the creature is capable of. He manages to capture the full range of emotions that is thoroughly engaging to watch. Eilidh Loan as Mary Shelley captures the author’s independent streak with great passion, highlighting how forward for her time she was. As the story unfolds, she delivers a performance that offers great insight into an author who is overlooked by this story. There is also a lovely and delicate performance from Natali McCleary as Frankenstein’s cousin and later wife Elizabeth.

Overall, while this version of Frankenstein has plenty to recommend it in terms of visuals and atmosphere it does tend to struggle to reconcile giving Mary Shelley a more central role with ensuring that the story of Frankenstein is still effectively told.

By Emma Clarendon

Frankenstein continues to play at Richmond Theatre until the 23rd November.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐