Frankenstein – 19 February 2020, Sheffield University Drama Studio
Review by Artisan Friendly.
“Directed by Sam Islam, the action of Frankenstein takes place in the study of the Victor Frankenstein on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland in the late 19th Century. Using a spare colour palate, the lighting casted a sickly green/yellow hue throughout which added to the atmosphere of fear and unease as the title character recalls his hideously insane tale of creating a living creature from second-hand body parts.
‘Frankenstein’ is a captivating story which has been with us now for over 200 years and has pervaded popular culture. The name is even recognised on spell-check! Consider how Hollywood’s interpretation – which cast Boris Karloff as ‘The Monster – has cemented that ghoulish visage into our psyches, elevating the image to a status as iconic as that of Monroe. The beast and the beauty? Our fascinations continue…
What I really enjoyed about the Midland Players production is that we were allowed to feel empathy and sorrow for the predicament of ‘the monster’. The tense, edgy performance of Oliver Jenkinson emphasised the insanity of Frankenstein’s single-minded ambition ‘to create life’ and the pathos and sense of rejection Adam Booth injected into his macabre creation, highlighted this yet more. It was a great touch to use costume and vocality to develop the monster and illustrate that, as he was becoming familiar with ‘humanity’, he appeared more erudite and less ‘inhuman’. These considerations underlined well that it is the predilections of the human beings in this piece that are inhuman, not the ‘monster-being’. At one point, an overhead spot caught the tortured expression of the monster’s patched-up face (the make-up was excellent) as he is fully realising the hideousness in which he is viewed. Here, for me, the awful plight of John Merrick or, ‘The Elephant Man’ – as he was known – sprang to mind. As we now know, it was never Merrick that was hideous; it was the society around him. Despite having emotions, the monster is only considered as a hindrance, a mistake and, at one point, is actually referred to directly as ‘repulsive’. How do you grow and prosper from there?
As Henry Clerval, Richard Delroy gave a sparky, energetic performance which contrasted well with the angst-ridden interpretation of Frankenstein, particularly when they headed off to the graveyard – with great zeal – to dig up body parts! He reminded me of the frenetic vitality of Jack Lemmon at times. Alex Wilson as Inspector General Ernst Hessler embedded humour into the proceedings and Bel Odawa, as Justine, provided a fantastically charged scene when pleading for her life to be saved. It was Adam Booth though who dominated the play throughout. He infused ‘presumption’ (as the character was called in the first stage adaptation) with a whole gamut of complicated qualities and complex emotions that it was impossible to simply dismiss his creation as repugnant. One felt that Booth’s monster was actually striving for goodness, for peace of mind and a place to just exist in comfort but that the whole world was against him.
The costumes captured the era well as did the overall design and set. Some of the off-stage sound effects were slightly intrusive and could have benefitted from being taken down a notch but on the whole, this was a stylish and engaging production which raised many questions about the nature and definition of humanity and inhumanity.”
Frankenstein will be performed at Sheffield University Drama Studio until Saturday 22 February. For further information and to book visit www.midlandplayers.co.uk/next-show
The Midland Players amateur dramatic society has been active in Sheffield for over 40 years, performing two plays each year in the University of Sheffield Drama Studio. Originally formed from Midland Bank staff, they are now an open group welcoming all comers. For further information visit www.midlandplayers.co.uk.