In this entertaining homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a team of Catalan multidisciplinary creators have adjusted the plot of the 1818 original to present an atmospheric if ‘diet’ version of the tale. A Wagneresque soundtrack and enigmatic images of the natural world provide the scenery for the story of mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein, who, in an obsessive frenzy, fabricates a monster out of dead men’s body parts and electrocutes it to life.
This production, according to director Carme Portaceli and cinematographer Guillem Morales, who adapted the text, focuses on the relationship between the creator and his creation, abandoned when the thing starts to move. Their connection is examined too in the 2011 London production that starred the two TV Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), which had genius and monster continually swap roles.
Part horror story, part travelogue, Shelley’s book revels in lengthy descriptions of the external sublime world and the internal conflictive one. It reflects the Romantic mood with its gloomy despair at the horrors of humanity, the hangover of the supreme confidence of the 18th century Enlightenment, the age of science and idealism that gave us the glory of the French Revolution, and its process of artificial selection by guillotine.
The unassuming strength of this production is in its own journey – the overt struggles of Morales, the Catalan director behind the recent BBC miniseries of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall, to pin it down. It works best when he gives in to its outrageousness: characters double up, giving the impression that they have been revived from the dead, and it is rather more the differences between Frankenstein and his monster than the similarities that stand out.
Played in a hapless, stumbling fashion by Àngel Llàcer, Dr. Frankenstein makes for an unlikely genius – this, partly because the production begins with the electric spark that animates his creation, without reflecting on the dangerous ambition that led to it. The monster (played charmingly by Joel Joan) puts his own ambition to good effect – speed-learning Catalan to an enviable level of eloquence. An exemplar of the nurture over nature debate, ‘it’ becomes an educated, civilised man, that is, until rejection and betrayal by others turn him into a violent murderer.
Mary Shelley, the daughter of radicals and the runaway bride of the poet Percy Shelley, had recently lost a child before she wrote the story. Perhaps in Frankenstein’s bottomless subtext there lies the suspicion that what makes the monster human is what leads it to ruin: the acquired desire for the love of others, that ends in its bitter disappointment and death.
Teatre Nacional de Catalunya
until 25th March 2018