Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh this week (Mon 21st to Sat 26th October) and, on paper, this should be a huge success as it has many positives working in its creation. Here we have one of the most iconic gothic horror stories of all time, written by one of the most interesting women of her time, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and on top of that this adaptation is by Rona Munro, a fine storyteller, and directed by Patricia Benecke. Why is it then, that this production, despite being a very Scottish one, performed on stage in Edinburgh, is just not working when all the different elements are put together?
From our opening moments, everything looks to be good. We have an interesting white modernist set with a gothic feel to it, plus very interesting music (Simon Slater), and a visually striking Mary Shelley (Eilidh Loan) as she takes to the stage. Here, Mary is dressed more gothic steam-punk than anything that would have been worn in the early 1800s, but against this set it works. The idea here of being with Mary Shelley as she not only creates her famous novel, first published in 1818, “Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus” and everyone who inhabits the world of this book, but also interacts with them is an interesting concept that offered much in the way of storytelling possibilities. Sadly, so many of these possibilities never seem to be opened up, or if they are, they are closed far too quickly.
For me, the biggest problem here is just deciding upon which direction this production is going in as its focus is constantly shifting, and taking it all too often away from the most interesting character on stage by far – Mary Shelley herself. Here, we watch as Mary’s imagination gives birth to Victor Frankenstein (Ben Castle Gibb) his family and friends, and of course his (well Mary’s) creation, The Monster (Michael Moreland). What we do not get is any insight into the friends and family of Mary Shelley, or any real insight to Mary as a woman, and just what drove her to create such a story at a time when many considered the subject matter “ungodly”, even perhaps heretical. We do get some insights into the social and political world that Mary was born into but, too often, contemporary viewpoints strangely come into the dialogue, and they often clash with the main story line.
With this production trying to keep to the original story, but not do it as a period piece, and add some contemporary twists to it (visually and textual), Eilidh Loan as Mary has a difficult task here, particularly as her role is almost a monologue, and she has no one really to play off. In this production, all of that human emotion and interaction is via the book’s characters and the world that Mary has created for them, and there is something missing here, a lack of being able to make many of these scenes any more than just words on Mary’s pages There seem to be some odd casting choices here and there is all too often a stiffness of delivery to lines and a lacking of emotion to them. Is Frankenstein really losing his mind here as he descends into obsession and then self-loathing and terror? I just get little feel of that from Ben Castle Gibb here as Frankenstein’s relationship scenes with wife to be, Elizabeth (Natali McCleary) all too often also have an odd emotional coldness to them bordering on detachment at times.
Making this show very much his own though is Michael Moreland as “The Monster”, and this very articulate and insightful creation of Frankenstein has much to say and does so in style. Perhaps here is where the huge difference in experience of stage work compared to the rest of the cast is really starting to show for Michael Moreland.
There are, despite all of the problems, some interesting concepts here. We of course have the God, creator of man and woman as the Bible tells everyone versus the “sacrilege” of Frankenstein now being the creator. We also though interestingly here have Mary Shelley in that God like position that all writers find themselves in as creators of their characters and absolute dictator of their fates.
There is an irony here though that, despite Mary Shelley proudly (and rightfully) proclaiming on stage that these are her words and this is her creation, the first edition of this book was published anonymously.
All through this show we are promised “horror”, but it never comes, and the “gothic” never comes either, a bit of a problem for a classic “gothic horror” story. Perhaps though, the real focus has been missed here as to what the “horror” here actually is. For me it is not the horror of the monster, but the horror of what we are all so sadly capable of inside of us as human beings.
Review by Tom King