You may think you know the story of Frankenstein – in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps’ version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative – Mary Shelley herself.
Writer/director Ross McGregor’s reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley’s life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter.
It’s a fascinating way of revisiting familiar material, one which examines the influences as much as the end product, revealing just how much of her self Shelley poured into the novel. The strongest element is her difficult relationship to the maternal bond, both in her own mother dying after giving birth to her and the deaths of several of her own children whilst very young, vividly refracted through both the Creature’s ‘adolescence’ and Victor’s familial situation, plus the effect on her own connection to her father.
And reflecting this treatment, McGregor stages his play boldly too. Several of the company play multiple roles, switching from timeframe with the doffing of a hat and though it may take a minute to remember who exactly is who, this plays beautifully into the haziness of the older Shelley’s recollections. Timelines bleed into one another, dead bodies rise from the floor to suddenly become someone else, we find ourselves in a marvelously disconcerting dream-like state, realised perfectly by Ben Jacobs’ atmospheric shafts of lighting.
Odin Corie’s excellent costume design with its hints of steampunk add to the atmosphere, and as we have become accustomed to from this accomplished company, performances are excellent. Cornelia Baumann (previously a uncommonly great Lady Macbeth) is powerful as both incarnations of Mary, full of determination even in an uncompromising world, something we see hints of in Christopher Tester’s obdurate (and silkily voiced) Victor. And there’s extraordinary physical work from Will Pinchin, Arrows & Traps’ resident movement director as an intriguingly intellectual take on the Creature. A fearlessly inventive Frankenstein all round.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 21st October, then touring to Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford 2-4 November