Frankenstein: A Chilling Twist On A Classic Tale
Tuesday 17 - Saturday 21 October 2023
Tilted Wig brings a new perspective on the gothic chiller, Frankenstein, coming to Darlington Hippodrome for one week only in October.
1943. Whilst Europe tears itself apart, two women hide from their past at what feels like the very end of the world. And one of them has a terrifying story to tell…
When it comes to adapting a well-known novel for the stage, there are countless challenges for a playwright to navigate.
And in Séan Aydon’s new production of Frankenstein, the timeless themes of Mary Shelley's iconic story are entwined with a host of new elements that will give its audiences a particularly haunting experience.
Aydon explains his inspiration. “When I first approached the script, I wanted to make it feel more contemporary, to relate more to the ethical questions of today and to make it feel more real. But setting it in 2023 felt too clean and clinical – there is something far less scary about lasers and steel in comparison to rusted operating equipment!”.
So why World War Two? He continues, “There is no historical context that we have a better shared understanding than that of World War II. We are all aware of the horrors of the time and by setting our play amongst them it raises the stakes immeasurably; the Doctor’s experiments have the power to change the whole world in a way we can all imagine. By exploring it through the prism of that time, a world where eugenics and racial purity were growing in popularity, I’m also hoping that the audience question the ethics of today and the dangerous path that chasing “perfection” leads to.”
One of the most striking changes in this adaptation is the gender swap of the protagonist, transforming Doctor Victor Frankenstein into Doctor Victoria Frankenstein. The switch has significant influence over the dynamics and the overall message of the play.
Aydon says, ”The biggest impact of having a female doctor is the use of the word mother and all the connotations that go with it. When the Creature calls her ‘Mother’ it’s a chilling reminder of the responsibility we have when creating life and how distorted the relationship can become.”
Adapting a renowned novel like Frankenstein for the stage presents its own set of challenges. In this case, Aydon approached the original text as a starting point for an entirely new play. While major plot points remain intact, very little dialogue was directly lifted from the novel, allowing for the exploration of Shelley’s ideas in a fresh context.
Aydon elaborates, “The book itself is not particularly theatrical; it is told in a series of letters. But I wanted to retain that element of it feeling like a “ghost story” told in the past tense. I love the idea of two people sitting by a fire, telling a story that grows in the audiences’ mind until the tension is almost unbearable. True fear exists in the imagination”.
There’s no question that Doctor Frankenstein’s story is an enduring popular one, with a host of productions over the years on both stage and screen. Emma Stone will be a female Frankenstein’s monster in the upcoming film ‘Poor Things’, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The Hammer reworking in 1957 with Christopher Lee was a huge hit and spawned six sequels whilst Boris Karloff’s 1931 creature is often lauded as definitive. Less scary, but no less notable is Mel Brooks’ hilarious parody, Young Frankenstein (1974) starring and co-written by Gene Wilder. More recently Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie featured the voices of a host of stars including Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Martin Short and Frankenstein’s story got a rather different treatment in the direct-to-video Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein.
At the National Theatre, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch famously alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in Danny Boyle’s 2011 production and they went on to share both the Laurence Olivier Award and Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for their respective performances.
Why does the story of Doctor Frankenstein hold such enduring fascination? Aydon puts it down to a number of factors. Importantly, it’s the very first science fiction novel, a genre that continues to captivate audiences as scientific advancements bring its themes closer to reality. Furthermore, its themes are timeless: we are still questioning humanity's responsibility toward one another and right now, with the boom in AI, the news if full of the, often unchecked, progress of science and technology. And of course the eternal question of nature versus nurture will always strike a nerve with every parent and carer.
The fascination with horror stories, both on stage and screen, reflects our inherent desire to be scared. While cinema offers realistic portrayals of horror, theatre taps into the power of imagination and the present moment. The absence of a screen allows the audience to be fully immersed, heightening the tension and fear. Productions like Andy Nyman's "Ghost Stories" and Robert Icke's psychological horror adaptations have excelled in leveraging the strengths of theatre to create truly terrifying experiences.
What does Aydon hope the audience will take away from this new adaptation? He says, “I want people to leave this production of Frankenstein realising they haven’t relaxed any of the muscles in their body for the last hour.”
One thing is for sure, this clever new version is sure to provide an unforgettable theatrical experience for theatregoers.
Aydon concurs, “If you love gripping drama, if you love a good story well-told, if you want to be laughing and before you know it find your heart in your mouth, if you want to be left arguing about which character was in the right for the next few days – you should book to see Frankenstein.”
Full casting for Frankenstein was announced recently. Eleanor Mcloughlin will play ‘Victoria Frankenstein’ with Basienka Blake as ‘Captain/Richter’, Cameron Robertson as ‘The Creature’, Dale Mathurin as ‘Henry’ and Lula Marsh as ‘Elizabeth’.
Eleanor McLoughlin’s credits include ‘Mollie Ralston’ in The Mousetrap West End and ‘Perdita’ in Cheek by Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale US Tour. Basienka Blake recently played ‘Madam Boussiron’ in We’ll Always Have Paris for the Mill at Sonning and UK tours include Rufus Norris’s Cabaret and The Da Vinci Code. Cameron Robertson’s stage credits include Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Oleanna and For King and Country at Southwark Playhouse. Dale Mathurin has appeared in Coming to England at Birmingham Rep, in Jamie Lloyd’s Evita at Regents Park Open Air Theatre as well as in a host of roles at the RSC. Lula Marsh has just graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre and was shortlisted for the BBC Carleton Hobbs Bursary Award.
Not suitable for Under 12s.
Frankenstein runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 17 to Saturday 21 October. For full details and to book visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk or call the box office on 01325 405405
Jowheretogo Podcast- The Northeast Culture Show :
Previews and reviews of live music, comedy, theatre & more in Northeast England. New music, old music and a bit of what we fancy! Find out what's on in Northeast England: With Jo ; Northeast Music Guide , and Steve : Northeast Theatre Guide
Available now on Spotify
Podcast link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/45fRH0TUt1ObXQmMDdG1iC