‘Frankenstein’ was written by London born Mary Shelley, who at the age of 16 became pregnant to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unfortunately, the poet was already married and so a huge amount of social upset resulted, ending with his wife committing suicide. He then married Mary two years later.
Mary wrote ‘Frankenstein’ when she was only 21 years old – a similar age to the adaptor and director of this play. The book was first made into a film 85 years ago and was true to the text, by giving the creature real depth and personality. In the 1960s, a string of tacky films came out from companies like Hammer, when the creature was a monster with a bolt through his neck, giving the occasional grunt.
One of Perth’s most respected independent theatre companies, Second Chance Theatre, is proudly presenting this Gothic classic at the Nexus Theatre at Murdoch University until Saturday 23rd July. The amazing performances are 2 hours 40 minutes long – with one interval – and commence at 7.30 pm.
At the rear of the stage is a raised platform that acts as the brig of a ship, and later as street level.
Stage right is the home of Victor, stage left is the Captain’s cabin on the ship. This ingenious and versatile set was adapted from those of the previous two plays in the Gothic series, again designed by Allison Snell. The numerous slick scene changes were under the supervision of stage manager Georgia Smith and her assistant Dylan Dorotich.
The snow is falling. It is a bleak winter and a ship has become trapped in the Arctic ice. On board are a desperate crew, and landlubber, Victor Frankenstein (Scott McArdle), a scientist who has paid the female captain, Walton (Rhianna Hall) to help him escape a nightmare. Victor starts to explain to the captain his strange past, and why he left Switzerland in a hurry.
Fifteen years earlier as a weakly, bullied child, Victor was the first born of Alphonse (John King) and Caroline Frankenstein (Izzy McDonald). He became a stepbrother to their adoptees, Henry (Launcelot Ronzan) and beautiful Elizabeth (Shannon Rogers) – whom they hoped Victor would ultimately marry. Eventually the Frankensteins managed to give birth to another child of their own, a cheery young lad called William (Toni Vernon).
The children were lovingly cared for by the maid, Josephine (Ellin Sears), the cook (Kate Willoughby) and butler (Andrew Dawson). Then one evening, an accident on the farm resulted in the death of Frau Frankenstein. Feeling lost, Victor sets off to Ingolstadt University to study anatomy and physiology under Professor Dippel (Jenia Gladziejewski). Victor finds some miserable lodgings, with an even more miserable landlord (Stephen Platt).
Wishing to further his studies and theories, Victor visits a few mortuaries, ingratiating himself with two of the attendants (Daniel Buckle, Justin Crossley). He ‘borrows’ bodily parts from their morgue. One stormy night, a flash of lightning energises Victor’s creation. The Creature (Laughton Mckenzie) is born.
The Creature’s only friends are a pack of wolves (Rhys Hyatt, Jenia Gladziejewski, Ellin Sears). He meets and helps a poor blind man, Felix (Alex McVey) and his thoughtful daughter, Agatha (Abbey McCaughan) but a tragedy befalls them, and an unfortunate old tramp (Andrew David) who gets in the way.
With a wedding in the offing, Elizabeth takes on a ‘special’ butler, De Lacey (Rhys Wyatt).
Scott McArdle has wisely taken us back to the original script and theme, by allowing us to see behind the broken body of the hapless ‘creature’. This ‘vision’ took us on an emotional rollercoaster ride, first we feel sorry for the creature and wish it success; before we hit the skids and witness it crashing into another killing spree. The writing skills exhibited in this adaptation are exceptional; just a little subtle humour, a genuine feeling of hopelessness for the creature, rapidly followed by anger at attitudes of the public to this poor human.
There are a couple of incredible wild horses in this play that can be seen through the subdued, misty light. Their eyes glow, they can rear up and trot convincingly around the stage, superbly designed by Anna Sheehy (assisted by Andrew David and Sam Knox) and controlled by the equine wrangling team of Joel Sammels, Tay Broadley and Abbey McCaughan. Likewise, the wolves sniffed around, showed apprehension and even circled like real animals before they lay down. It was the attention to such minute details that took this whole concept to that only expected of a major professional production.
The complex lighting (designer Scott McArdle, operator Sarah Bond) and crisp sound effects (Katie Southwell) played a major part in the presentation of this play. There were a multitude of effect such as snow, just the right amount of fog and mist, with well-placed lights and perfectly chosen colours to augment the mood. The costumes (Sophie Braham, assisted by Allison Snell, Bella Doyle, Melanie Buchanan) ranged from the tatty urchins to the sumptuous ball gowns of Elizabeth. Every costume fitted immaculately, and was made from fabrics of the era – not simply cotton dyed or painted to appear realistic. The shoes and accessories were carefully chosen.
The makeup design is always important, but in this play the Creature has to look realistically disfigured and not ridiculous. The horrendous scarring and gore was thanks to the talented hard work of Leah Toyne.
The musical soundscape was once again the clever work of Drew Krapljanov, who has just the right touch of matching the scene’s atmosphere with the correct emotion in music. Especially in a play like this, one should be unaware of any accompaniment without actually listening for it. The notes should be mellifluous, invisibly and smoothly coating the vision.
The technical manager, Keaton Howe, and the production managers, Andrew David and Scott McArdle have gone for quality and at no point have they taken the soft option. Quality was always paramount.
It is easy to say that ‘all of the actors did well’, but in this case it is true. The entrances and exits slick, the diction clear, the body language and chemistry exceptional for EVERY single member of the cast. Some stunning and moving performances, but I must give a special mention to Scott McArdle as Victor, and Laughton Mckenzie as the Creature – WOW !!
The thing I like mainly about Murdoch productions is that you can sense that every member of the cast and crew are keen, truly enjoying themselves and determined to give the audience a great night out, by using every ounce of their skills. Enthusiasm brings perfection. A great show that will last in our memories for decades to come.
This superb adaption of ‘Frankenstein’ can be strongly recommended to amateur and professional theatre everywhere. Give yourselves and your audiences something different.