Log in

No account? Create an account

Seer of ghosts & weaver of stories

(You are very much not forgotten)

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Review: Frankenstein (Reverse) @ National Theatre, 24 March 2011

Given there's no way I was going to score live tickets for my second viewing (I was lucky enough to have them the first time around), I ended up booking a ticket for tonight's broadcast at Stratford Picture House. My comments this time will be much more brief, as I've already commented at great length on the astonishing effect of the sets and music in my previous review. If anything, the broadcast dulled these aspects somewhat: the lighting sometimes didn't translate well onto the screen, and the bell didn't make me jump out of my skin. The lights weren't half as blinding, either. And although this insulation might sound pleasant, those effects are rather crucial to the overall experience. The only real benefit to be had from the broadcast is the close-ups of the actors' faces. That make-up job remains unparalleled.

Having seen both versions now, in broad terms, I honestly don't prefer one over the other.

I'm one of those people who does tend to fall one one side of a fence or another. I have strong opinions, and when an interpretation of something I hold dear rubs me the wrong way, my whole world's going to know before long. This play already has my heart for remaining truer to the novel than any other dramatization I've ever seen, and now both of the lead actors have my heart for being able to play both roles with equal skill.

However, the devil is, as they say, in the details.

There are some minor points on which I feel one or the other does have a bit of an edge. For instance, I'm falling afoul of all the critics in preferring Jonny's Victor to Benedict's: I prefer that grounded sense of warmth that seems to fly entirely in the face of his cerebral arrogance. Benedict's Victor is much colder, more withdrawn, and I found myself in some scenes wanting Jonny's Victor back. This stance has a fascinating reverse effect: when it comes to the Creature, I think that Benedict has the slight upper hand. I found his handling of the creature's physicality, development, and diction much more believable. Jonny's Creature progresses too quickly and smoothly for my liking; his movements from the beginning are much too coordinated. In the featurette at the start of the broadcast, both actors made some comments that allowed me to make sense of my preference in this regard: Benedict used stroke and crash survivors' progress toward re-learning their bodies as his influence, whereas Jonny says his version of the Creature was influenced by watching his two year-old son. It makes intuitive sense to me that already grown individuals who have lost use of limbs/their bodies or have forgotten would make a better psychological model in the case of dead flesh re-animated. I hope none of this sounds odd or insensitive.

Other random observations: they seem to have tightened up the flow from scene to scene. The loincloths on both the Creature and the Bride Creature looked vaguely ridiculous, especially after having seen the version containing nudity. I'm still as transfixed by the slow, eerie movements of the not-quite-living Bride Creature as I was on the first viewing. That'll stay with me for a long time, and it'll doubtless serve as inspiration for the short story that's next on my writing docket. Meanwhile, I'm reaching for Shelley with my fingers crossed.

  • 1
I don't find anything that you've said at all odd or insensitive, but - did he mean that he'd read about it, or visited/watched actual people?

If the latter...taking real disabled people as models for a "Creature" (implicitly non-human/less-than-human) squicks me a lot. It makes me wonder how the people who were the models (if he did approach real people) felt about it. If he started by using (argh, even the word!) people who were recently injured, could they give meaningful consent? Was due consideration given to emotional and personality changes strongly associated with brain injuries? (I fear it's possible for OTs/hospitals/doctors to be all "woo, famous actor going to play at the NT, of course the patients would LOVE to help!" without actually giving them more than a token chance to refuse - just going on my own experience of hospitals.)

My questions are all hypothetical - of course I don't expect you to answer them, and I may have completely misread your post to mean that people were involved, when actually he was reading books. Thanks SO much for mentioning that, anyway. I've not seen it discussed at all in the disability blogosphere (yet), but it's a most interesting and thought-provoking detail of the production process - even if he used books, which nullifies the immediate ethical concerns, it's still a choice very worthy of analysis.

(Of course I can at the same time see that very good acting can result from such forms of inspiration! And only wish I could have seen the show myself, to have a properly informed opinion.)

[D]id he mean that he'd read about it, or visited/watched actual people?

I can't answer that question, because he didn't specify. However, I got the sense that he'd perhaps spoken with and/or observed individuals in various stages of recovery. I didn't find what he said offensive in any way, though, and I found the brief flashes of insight into their processes completely fascinating.

ajodasso Expand
ajodasso Expand
ajodasso Expand
Going on my own experience, I don’t think anything you've said is intrusive. It makes sense. As a disabled person myself, I would have been delighted if it were me and I’m sure he obtained consent from the people themselves if he used them as inspiration. He's too kind not to do that, I think. He could have generalised though, if you know what I mean, and therefore not have to obtain consent from anyone, if that makes sense.

However, seeing the opening scenes of Ben's Creature was very painful for me to sit through, as I’m sure you can imagine. I twitched in sympathy with every fall the Creature took; it looked so sore, and I could empathise with every bit of it. I remember all too well relearning how to walk five years ago; how hard that was, the frustration at my body not doing what I needed or wanted it to do. All that, I thought, came through when I saw the broadcast, but in a different way.

It makes a lot of sense that you should think that way and no, nothing you said was insensitive, it was perfect to outline this.

I really hope that they release the documentary; I keep hearing people say that what they show before the broadcasts is just a short bit of something much longer. I will totally shell out if they decide to release a DVD set. Greedily, I hope they'll include the documentary and both versions.

That was just the thing about watching Jonny's creature: it was less painful than watching Benedict's creature by a significant enough fraction to make me think, One of these guys physically gets something about this role that the other doesn't quite manage. And, yes, I can imagine that it must have been incredibly difficult for you to watch *hugs*

It's so cool that you got to see both versions of this! (or any versions at all, really.) thanks for posting your reviews - they were very interesting to read. It's cool that they did that little bit of an intro with the actors (I wonder if there is a different intro at the beginning of the film version with them in the other role).

I think it's fascinating that JLM chose his growing child while BC chose patients to take cues from - developing muscles & nerves versus relearning how to use already developed muscles & nerves. And, you mention this in conjunction with how they chose to play the creature, but I wonder if it also informs on how they chose to play Victor - a man watching a child grow versus a man watching a patient regain/relearn mobility.

Then again, it seems like Frankenstein is a more deeply complex work than Hollywood has ever given it credit for being.

I'm so happy for you that you have gotten to see both versions!

Then again, it seems like Frankenstein is a more deeply complex work than Hollywood has ever given it credit for being.

Infinitely so. Another point made in the documentary is that Hollywood has consistently robbed the Creature of his voice, reduced him to a silent or grunting green monster (although the Branagh version, as cringe-worthy as it is in its own right, at least lets him speak, and the make-up job is more akin to the play). The book is nothing like the early film versions and cartoon parodies; how on earth did that trope take such hold? What I love most about the play is that we enter it from the Creature's perspective, and we never quite shake it.

The loincloths on both the Creature and the Bride Creature looked vaguely ridiculous

Oh good, I'm not the only person to think that. Sadly, it's probably the only way they could get the transmissions OK'd for those backwater areas where they think 'nude from the waist up = art; nude from the waist down = porn'.

Yes, I heard that's why they had to do it, too.

Interesting where you say that the music and lights were more integral in the live version. I felt the music in particular was very distracting in the filmed version. The lighting seemed interesting, but flared a bit in the cameras.

As I mentioned in my review, I would have far preferred to have seen the entire story as told simply between Victor and the Creature. Perhaps De Lacey to show the possibility of compassion and I agree that the moment when the Creature (BC) touches the female's hand is worth the price of admission, but for the brief time that they spent on the non-Creature/Victor scenes, the events could have been referred to by both in dialog. But then, I had significant problems with the production as a whole.

I am glad that you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing the second version myself as I am a fan of JLM as well.

The lighting and music do so much to build the atmosphere when you see it live, or at least they do in my perception. I'd say they don't translate over as well in broadcasting at all. While I didn't find them distracting during the broadcast, they did feel somewhat...disjointed.

the moment when the Creature (BC) touches the female's hand is worth the price of admission

I'm riveted from the moment Victor brings her out into the open to the moment she's sprawled bloody across the stage. For me, she's the single most haunting image in the entire play.

Both versions of the production sound as though they must have been truly amazing. Frankenstein is a story that no one ever does justice to, which is a serious shame because there's so much there to work with (all of which far more interesting that Hollywood allows)! There's so much depth and darkness to be explored. I'm intrigued by your descriptions of the differences in their portrayals of the characters. Each one sounds so very interesting to watch! Maybe they'll be kind and air both versions at some point. I'm hoping theatres in the States catch on to the National Theatre Live idea.

Personally, I don't see anything "odd or insensitive" in what you've said - the differentiation you've made between the two approaches makes perfect sense, actually. I can definitely see how that feeling of relearning those basic motions would have a huge impact on the performance. Honestly, I have no idea how I would react to that if I were someone who had been in that position, though. Reading through other responses have got me thinking on it, and perhaps made me more uncomfortable with the idea.

And, loincloths are always a bad idea visually. There is no way for them to look anything but awkward and contrived.

Thanks for posting your reviews of the two versions - this was a very interesting read!

I've booked a ticket to the Q&A on 20 April, since, amazingly, tickets are still available and since it was so relatively cheap (ten quid). I'll post a review of that as well, since I seem to have a trend going. I'm fascinated by this performance because I'm writing a short story for an anthology that's a retelling of Frankenstein. All very relevant. I'm enthralled by the choices Boyle has made as a director, and now I wonder what kind of choices I'll have to make in casting the story in another setting, altering plot and events, etc. Retellings are always tricky; they at least had the benefit of staying close to the book.

ajodasso Expand
Love your reviews, thanks. I've seen both, too - Ben as Creature on the screen and Jonny on stage. I'm torn on Victor - they're so different. Jonny gets it for me on the Creature. As a parent the chidlike quality of his really touched and moved me. I think Ben is slightly better physically, though. I heard Ben say that they both visited a special school for highly autistic children, so I presume that he did also spend time with stroke victims etc. There HAS to be a DVD!

Benedict's physical work is impeccable; I don't think I've ever seen an actor with such control over the nuances of movement right down to subtle twitches in fingers and toes that don't seem forced or unnatural! Jonny's little tics as the creature felt a bit tacked-on, to me.

Oh, should have said, I'm seeing the last performance in the theatre. I think you almost need to see it more than twice.

Anyone with loads of questions should go to the Q&A that Ben and Jonny are doing on 20 April.

I was amazed to find that tickets for the Q&A were still available, and only ten pounds, at that, so I've booked one :)

I saw the first broadcast at our local cinema and was bowled over by the whole watching-theatre-at-the-cinema experience. What a brilliant idea. The cost involved in travelling to/staying in London is prohibitive. This way the rest of the country gets to watch superb actors live on stage. More, please.

I did not see the second broadcast but thought I'd seen the better of the two. Benedict was overwhelming.

You saw Benedict as the Creature, then? Oh, I'm glad.

I was going to rage about how the Danish cinemas screwed up so I didn't get to see the reversed roles. BUT! I've now booked tickets for the encore at the Chapham Picturehouse on April 25, we're flying to London the day before and staying with some friends until Tuesday, so we will catch it there! :DDD I'm so happy I will get a chance to show my husband this wonderful production, and glad that I will get to see the reversed roles so I can compare. (AND OMG YAY LONDON!)

Everything you said about the differences in their creatures is exactly as I thought, though. I can't imagine that Jonny (or any human being) can be better than Benedict's creature. Like you say, his body control is astonishing, how he remembers to move every digit all the time is insane, I've never seen anything like it. I'm looking forward to seeing his Victor, though. He's good at playing cold characters, so I think I will like it.

Since you're coming to London, would you like to meet up? :)

psychedk Expand
ajodasso Expand
  • 1