Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Please do not be inconsistent, I find it infuriating”

Perhaps the first big theatre ‘event’ of the year is the National Theatre’s Frankenstein which has taken the step of cross-casting its two main parts, so on different nights one can see Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The play is a new work by Nick Dear although based on Mary Shelley’s famous novel and features the National Theatre directorial debut of Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. The programme of who is playing whom has now been published, although the run is currently sold out, but the previews remained unallocated so it was a lucky dip as to who we would get when we went to see it: just to clarify, this is a review of a preview performance from Tuesday 8th February which I have kept in mind whilst blogging about this show.

There’s a highly atmospheric entrance into the Olivier, with a bell tolling and a strange looking pod revolving slowly around the stage. As the lights darkened to a womb-like red, a figure began to emerge from this pod and eventually a completely naked Benedict Cumberbatch broke free to be birthed into this cruel chamber. It is hard to see how this opening 15 or so minutes will be bettered this year, as a physical performance it is truly outstanding as he slowly becomes accustomed to the world through squinting eyes, stuttering sounds and a stumbling gait, controlled through a stunning light feature that hangs above the stage, protruding into the audience that flashes blindingly, radiating an intense heat too, as a highly effective warning device. It is a remarkably open sequence too, not just because he is in the nude, but because he is so free in his movements and the way in which he shows the fast-burgeoning intelligence of the Creature, in his reaction to his first dawn or the rain for instance: he really sets the marker for the rest of the play in creating this empathetic character who one can’t help but root for (the odd murder excepted of course). Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre

“It’s only rich folk can keep theirselves tae theirselves. Folk like us huv tae depend on their neighbours when they’re needin help”

Men Should Weep is a play by Ena Lamont Stewart, voted as one of the top 100 English language plays of the twentieth century but has been very rarely performed. A programme note suggests that it was O H Mavor’s dismissal of her talent that prevented her from developing further as a playwright and stifling her reputation and it was crushingly sad to find out that the real appreciation of her work as a classic and its placing in said poll came too late for her as her memory had gone by then and she passed away in 2006. So this is an important revival in that sense, spearheaded by Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre Josie Rourke’s directorial debut at the National, but in its look at the everyday life of people in poverty, it rings with an ominous political resonance given the news in yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the effect it will have on the poorest in our society. This was the third preview, so all the usual caveats apply.

Set in the 1930s, the impoverished years of the Great Depression, in the crowded working-class slums of the Gorbals in the East End of Glasgow, it follows one family’s struggle for survival in a tough world. Working mother of seven Maggie is the lynchpin of this family but has to deal with an unemployed husband who won’t demean himself to do any domestic work, the return of a troublesome son and his wife to an already over-crowded home, one child with TB, another longing to fly to family coop and a gaggle of over-bearing friends and neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre”