Frankenstein: National Theatre

Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Frankenstein
George Harris as Papa Frankenstein
Naomi Harris as Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Danny Boyle

by Joanna Orland

***Warning – contains spoilers

When I heard that Danny Boyle was directing a reworked version of Frankenstein on the London stage and cast Jonny Lee Miller and Bernadette Cumberbund as The Creature and doctor on an alternating basis, I had to see this for myself! I’m a massive fan of Danny Boyle’s cinematic repertoire and have just got up to speed with JLM’s career as he was the latest Dexter baddie for season 5! And well, Bernadette Cumberpatch is a fellow ginge! Win win win!

First of all, if you have stalls tickets, you are pretty much sitting on the stage. I didn’t realize this until we sat down and JLM popped out of a cocoon completely stark naked right in front of us. He then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes or so spazzing out, balls, cock and bum flailing everywhere. Nice. Eventually Bernadette Humperdink came on stage and shooed him off in fear. Commence story.

Johnny Lee Miller channelled his inner Gilbert Grape for the role of Frankenstein’s Creature. Portrayed with such a physicality I thought only John Ritter of Three’s Company was capable of, JLM became immersed by his unloved, hideous and educated creature. One is supposed to feel compassion for the creature, but after he starts his wrathful revenge streak, it’s fairly difficult to empathize.

The first half of the play is all about the creature. Engelbert Humperdink’s Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t even make another appearance for ages, but finally emerges after the death of his younger brother William Frankenstein. And what an entrance this was!

While family Frankenstein searched for lost William, the audience was finally treated to the scene-stealing entrance they had been long-waiting for. Enter the five-fingered-show-stealer of Dr. Frankenstein’s leather gloves! Where did he get these – OJ’s garage sale??? They were fairly awesome and I don’t remember anything else about the play except for the gloves Burt Bacharach was sporting when he entered the stage at this point.

After having been blinded by the majesty of the gloves, I then realized that the actor George Harris (a black man with a non-English accent) was daddy Frankenstein to a very pasty and ginger Bernadette Peters. Not to go all racial, but it was just a bit odd. I think that it would have been ok if his accent was similar to Bernie’s, but this casting choice did at some points detract from the story at hand. A good actor, but just not really sure why he was cast in this role.

Naomi Harris may have also been a controversial choice for Elizabeth, merely because of the time period and setting of the play, but she was most excellent in the role and I loved her to bits! So did the creature! Ugh.

Anyway, yada yada yada… After the gloves were removed from Bernadette Cumberbund’s hands, I think the play ended. And they all lived happily ever after.

I’d like to see Frankenstein the other way round with JLM as the doctor and Bernie as the ginger creature. Mostly because I can’t fathom how this would work. JLM used his physicality and 0% body fat to make the creature come to life on stage, while Berns used his posh arrogance and glove-wielding gestures to make the doctor his own. I can’t imagine Benedink using physicality and JLM using eloquence, even when acting. My curiosity is peaked and this review shall yield a part 2 once this day comes.

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