shadydave: (do not taunt the octopus)
[personal profile] shadydave
So Diana and I just got back from the broadcast of the National Theater Live's Frankenstein, starring Sherlock vs. Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller!

...Was it just me, or did anyone else miss the part in the book where the monster gets vilely excoriated by the steampunk dance team?

Apart from that, though, I thought this production did an awesome job adapting the book as a transformative work, while staying faithful to the major themes... for the most part. Instead of following Frankenstein's parade of bad life choices, we witness the monster's journey, the mirror image of the text's structure. We got to see Jonny Lee Miller playing the monster, and he was awesome; the little featurette before the telecast talked about how they modeled their performances after people recovering from strokes and Miller's toddler, and he did a very good job conveying what could have been super cheesy in an affecting manner. So we get to see the monster's journey, from innocent birth to learning to walk to getting scorned and abused by the interpretive dance of random time-traveling Victorians (seriously what was that) to his education by the nice blind dude to his emerging violence to his desire for a mate to his roaring rampage of revenge: all (except for the steampunk chorus line) events from the book, but this time presented from the monster's POV as reality as opposed to unreliable narration.

Unfortunately, there's not actually enough Frankenstein, so what is one of the classic tales of monstrous doubles becomes... well, a classic tale of monstrous doubles, but a really uneven one. We get Frankenstein's mad science and his bad life choices, but not nearly enough his pathetic/sympathetic vulnerability. He still has his ambition and pride (I once wrote a paper called "The Pride of Frankenstein"; you're welcome) but we never see the personal cost of his manic quest for advancement, how he literally drives himself to the breaking point in the pursuit of knowledge. Benedict Cumberbatch was great, though, which makes it even more of a shame that we don't get to see the character fully brought to life.

(Pun not intended.)

Perhaps to make up for uncomplicating the creator a little, the creature gets more of a nasty edge. I really didn't like that he burned the DeLaceys' cottage with them in it and later raped Elizabeth before he killed her, because that's not just crossing the line, that's crossing the line like a gazelle in a jetpack. Those are the acts of a far more hot-blooded and ugly revenge, which makes the monster way less sympathetic and credible when he insists that he wants to be good. His murdering spree in the book starts with an accident -- Frankenstein's brother, who is killed offstage in this production, because you can totally show women getting raped onstage but God forbid you hurt a kid -- but mainly consists of precision fridging: the point is not to make the victims suffer, but Frankenstein. (And you still kind of agree with the monster. Getting the urge to kill is not an unreasonable reaction to listening to Frankenstein for extended periods of time.) Having the monster lash out with such calculation -- especially at Elizabeth, who has just shown him the first instance of fully-informed compassion in his whole life, which he is fully aware of -- evokes way more of a sociopath vibe than tragic (for everyone) rebellion against his creator.

(A note on Elizabeth: I liked that they made her a well-rounded Mary Sue, and highlighted her ~perfection~ for plot purposes. Heh. Though this makes her fate EVEN MORE NOT COOL. I DON'T RECALL 'THE MONSTER LEARNS ABOUT RAPE CULTURE' BEING A THEME.)

And then, of course, there's the end, my other biggest peeve. At first it looks like Frankenstein kicks the bucket randomly through the last scene, before the monster can really get his taunting going: I thought it was weirdly paced, but really, Frankenstein is aces at screwing up the monster's life, so it was kind of in-character to ruin his big denouement. The monster gives a really heartbreaking speech about death and loneliness and how he can't die, because he's all he has left -- and then Frankenstein wakes up. And the monster resumes taunting him, and Frankenstein pursues him (very slowly, since he's dragging a sled) off the stage. The end.

...

Man, if only there were some kind of ending that could reflect the monster's torment but leave his ultimate fate ambiguous, as befitting the open-ended question of the relation between fucked-up creator and fucked-up creation! That would really have capped off his character development and held true to the themes of the play.

And finally, I am sad they didn't use this line: 'Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds which I should first break through...' Because come on.

That aside, I really enjoyed it. Awesome acting, awesome staging, awesome adaptation (mostly).

(BUT WHY THE STEAMPUNK DANCE TEAM?????)
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shadydave

December 2012

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