(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)
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’.