‘If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!’ Frankenstein
Walking through the mottled darkness of the Arnos Vale Cemetery, we reach the eerie quiet of the Anglican chapel. It is cold and completely still. A faint light reveals Victor Frankenstein, frantically applying the finishing touches on his most daring creation. A spark of electricity, a pause, and a chilling scream explodes the play into life. The creature’s cries are answered only by stain glass and sandstone. So begins Matt Grinter’s Frankenstein.
The choice of setting was brilliant. The imposing Victorian tombs, elegant sepulchres and solemn epitaphs of Arnos Vale Cemetery blurred the lines between drama and reality. Walking into the chapel was almost as if walking into Frankenstein’s laboratory in Ingolstadt – his monster a creation from the graves outside. The cool, brick interior echoed every word and moan, aptly reiterating the loneliness inherent in the play.
The setting was the highlight of this production. Aside from the opening scream, Frankenstein’s monster did not adequately capture the terror Shelley’s tragic hero provokes in the text. The ‘monster’ was far more human in appearance, voice and action than anticipated. Of course, this may well have been an intentional move by Grinter to cut through the immediate horror of body dysmorphia and scientific possibility, therefore allowing a deeper exploration into human nature and its relationship with good and evil, yet this was not so. Many of the most important scenes in the play felt rushed, especially the scene with the blind father. The performance brushed over notable passages, in particular Victor’s creation and subsequent destruction of a female companion for the monster. It did seem going into the performance that 75 minutes felt too short to adequately tell such a complex story. Victor Frankenstein was breathless and overly exaggerated throughout the production, seemingly in greater fear of an asthma attack than being pursued by his own creation. Indeed, each actor felt all too ready to swoon and exasperate themselves in each scene, and this became more and more tiring as the play progressed.
Experiencing Shelley’s Frankenstein on the stage is always a pleasurable experience, and it was privilege to have been invited to watch the performance. Grinter’s production was lively and enjoyable, and it was amazing to have seen it performed at the stunning Arnos Vale Cemetery.