Thursday, 27 March 2008

REVIEW: "Frankenstein"

(The second review for today. See below for thoughts on Maria Friedman Rearranged.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Train Wreck Express is calling at the Cochrane Theatre in Holborn. Youth Music Theatre: UK have teamed up with Nick Stimson and Jimmy Jewell (responsible for the well-received NHS: The Musical) to take on a subject as cursed as its protagonist, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The story of this gothic horror/sci-fi classic is one most people are familiar with and shall not be covered here (though if you’ve forgotten or haven’t even seen a film, the basics are on Wiki). This new production takes an odd slant, adding a circus freak show as a moral platform to compare Victor and the Frankenstein family against the crassness of exploiting human deformation and misery. It’s an interesting idea, but drags down the first act with an extended opening scene which gives us lots of talk of Christian love which, if you believe some sects, is a rather masochistic form of affection with lots of pain.

And it is painful indeed. Jewell’s music is bland and repetitive, lacking in urgency and emotion without any form of standout song or memorable number. While the RZ doesn’t believe that one should leave every musical humming a song, he does feel that something, even a fragment or a chorus should be recallable six hours later. The Screams of Kitty Genovese is one such show, and another would, in his mind, be The Color Purple.

Stimson’s lyrics never truly come to life either, and include a magnificent blunder in breaking the suspension of disbelief when his wife to be begins singing about wanting emotional human contact and assigning it value in pennies, shillings, and pounds - curious currencies for a show set in 19th century Switzerland (which used, and still uses, the Franc). The dialogue is cliche, relying on a near-deaf ancient judge (who looks remarkably young) for comic relief. And why is there so much talk of the creation being a gigantic monstrosity when he’s a hunk?

There’s no sense of pacing, either. The creation scene is broken up by the death of Victor’s mother, and the first part involves an annoying mass of ensemble members croaking and making buzzing noises which distract from and cover up the main dialogue. The opening and courtroom scenes drag out the first act, and the deaths in the second are rushed over as well, including Victor’s arrest for potential involvement. The visuals are equally unimpressive, with a minimal static set, uninspired lighting, and lots of ensemble members as peasants in goth makeup.

Stimson was also responsible for directing this mishmash, and manages to suck the horror and suspense out of a legendary thriller. What he injects instead is a questionable allegory - is the focus on deviants supposed to be a reference to Victor’s possible homosexuality? The creature is a blonde adonis (think the creation in Rocky Horror with only slightly more fabric covering his legs), and Victor is noticeably fey in his speech patterns. He shuns female contact and finds himself barely capable of talking to his sisters, mother, or fiancee but maintains a close relationship at the beginning with his friend Henry and strokes the creation lovingly before casting it away. As the creation reappears, as much in Victor’s mind as reality, it separates him from his family, fiancee, the church (through his father), and his friend. The freaks return to reinforce Victor’s moments of sin and punishment, again emphasising deviance.

Indeed, if Victor could stop moaning about sin and just shag the creature, there may have been a more entertaining (and far shorter) work onstage. As it stands, Frankenstein is two hours plus interval and could easily be cut to a 100 minute one-act (or less). While there are some moments of unintentional hilarity to be had, nothing about this production makes enough of an impression to be truly lasting - at least Mel Brooks has 'Puttin on the Ritz' and Roger Bart to keep the audience awake in his mediocrity. Thankfully this Frankenstein will be put down after Saturday night’s performance.

Where: Cochrane Theatre
When: Until 29 March, Fr 19:30, Sa 15:00 and 19:30
How Much: £5/£9 (Mat/Eve)
Concessions: £3/£4
RZ Unofficial Worth Paying: £3. Fellow riders of the train wreck express should see this for as little as possible, and Frankenstein honestly isn’t worth immortalising as worthless.
RZ Other Notes: The cast were, to the RZ’s knowledge, amateurs, so they’re being given a pass, though for the most part they work with what they have and you get the standard mix from ‘actually decent’ to ‘in this because everybody gets a part in a cast of 30’.


Yanks go home!!! said...

oh dear!

So you think the judge "looks remarkably young" and "The cast were, to the RZ’s knowledge, amateurs".

Well done super sleuth.

This is a youth music theatre production and whilst you think "everybody gets a part in a cast of 30" the cast were chosen from over 2000 who auditioned last year.

If you had done your research you would have known this and I'm sure these 13-21 year olds will treat your "review" with the contempt that it deserves. By the way, who are you?

If you find the performance to be amateurish perhaps you need to spend more than £9 when going to a show in the West End or perhaps just need to get a life.

Rogue Zentradi said...

Mmm, trolls to feed.

The cast were fine for what they were (heaven knows my high school show casts weren't amazing) and what I expected. That doesn't mean the material itself is exempt - if you read the discussions at the Whatsonstage boards, the pedigree of the creative team are hyped and many people would go to see what they're doing that's new. This is a clear case of spare the cast and call out the writers for doing bad work and being self indulgent with the direction.

If any of the cast read this...keep trying, keep working, and see you at next year's auditions.

D. Lewis said...

Totally disagree with this negative review of what I thought was a truly memorable, moving and magical show. I have also seen many recent London productions, and can honestly say that this show stands up well amongst them. The cast did their best, and I found the songs very memorable and they still remain in my head. What these young people created on stage was a beautiful, memorable and most enjoyable production. May I add one further note to such a sour young critic - sounds like you like to know how to get there, but lets see you driving the car next time!

Well done YMT. I will be seeing you again. Rise above such negative comments.

Anonymous said...

see you at next year's auditions? sounds like someone didn't get into the company this time round.

i taste sour grapes.

Anonymous said...

These are children performing! I thought the show was far better than some West End musicals I have seen. The kids aged 14 to 21 had only 5 days as a group to rehearse! The singing, make up and choreography were exceptional. Lets hope that they can rise above your exceptionally unfair criticism - do your reserch next time!!