There is more than a little resemblance between this production and the successful recent National Theatre production of Frankenstein. If you’ve seen both it’s difficult not to compare the two: the set has the same modern dysphoria look; the costumes are just as disjointedly Victorian. It might be a testament to the Drama Barn team that with a much smaller budget and a much smaller space they’ve created basically the same effect. The similarities meant that sometimes the directorial voice (David Bolwell) of this production felt a little bit lost but there were definitely moments, effective moments, where they strayed and created something exciting and new.
They use the space well. Like many of the Drama Barn productions, there is just one set from start to finish but they’ve hidden things over it. As we watch Jamie Bowman, the Creature, explore the set we discover things ourselves: branches hidden behind the rafters in the ceiling, a hidden entrance beneath the elevated part of the stage. The first half has been choreographed and I was really impressed with what the Movement Director (Georgina Wilmer) had devised for the stage.
Jamie Bowman is great as the Creature. It takes a while to warm to his character, who we watch grow and change before us on stage from the start to the end of the performance. He starts learning how to walk, which takes a slow ten minutes of stage time, making the same monotonous noise over and over until he becomes grating to listen to. It’s tricky not to be impatient with this version of the character, to see him a little through Frankenstein’s eyes. Bowman can arouse sympathy for the character and does so, several times, but it is always with ambivalence. He is happy to let himself look gormless on stage and it means we can view him as pitiable and frightening at the same time, someone who is truly fun to watch on stage. I am confident that the production would be just as interesting when he switches roles with James Esler, who was playing Victor last night.
The small performances really bring life to this version. Kate Lansdale gives the most affecting monologue in the play as Elizabeth; she makes it painful to watch as she moves from asking Victor to teach her about science and to allow to travel to just asking him for a kiss. Callum Sharp gives a standout performance as William, bringing some great comic relief in a hilarious sailor outfit; similarly, Ross Telfer does a good job playing up the humour in his part as Felix. The highlight of the first half might have been Hannah Forsyth’s performance as the Female Creature in a dream sequence. Overall they help contribute to a performance that really plays up little details in Bolwell’s Frankenstein; it seems apt that some of the best moments of performance come from actors who only appear on stage once or twice.