Frankenstein at the National Theatre

Directed by Dany Boyle (Review written in October 2012)


Mr. Cumberbatch as the Creature 

So, yesterday evening, I went to a cinema more than an hour from my place to see the film version of the theatre play « Frankenstein » with Mr. Cumberbatch as the Creature.

First, I have to admit, I don’t like Frankenstein. Well, I don’t like the book. I think there is too much description, and the constant snivelling of the doctor who try to justify himself get on my nerves. I like the idea of the book, man against God, the scientific creation and its risks… And, I tought as a play, it could be interesting more visual, and with talented actors…

What can I say? It was just perfect. scenery

Danny Boyle and his writer, Nick Dear, wanted to adopt the point of view of the creature, and It a bloody good idea!

And seeing it more than reading it, it’s really different… Yes, IT’S ALIVE !

So, now, the performance in itself.

Be careful, it may be spoiliers in the following lines…

The « womb » from which the creature appears is a really good idea, the few minutes of fighting between the newborn and its new life is breathtaking. It seems like a real birth, difficult, or a fight for life, Mr. C’s performance is amazing, from these first minutes to the end. the way he moves, the way the creature evolve from this muet wild thing who crawls on the floor to a educated, agile, intelligent human being capable of feelings, good and bad… Because, the interresting thing is that Frankenstein creates a human being. As the creature says, itwas made for love, just wait to be loved and it receives only hate, so it became a hater, a liar, a murderer… like humans beings (don’t scream, it’s a general talk, but unlike the French philosopher J.J Rousseau, I don’t believe in the myth of the good wild man…)

in the play, which isn’t narrated by Frankenstein, or the creature (or the sailor from the book who just dissapears; good idea! he’s not needed in the plot!) we could see the reality of the character. the pride of Frankenstein who want to be God (stronger than god) and works for his pride and own glory, no just for science! We could empathize with the creature, rejected, hated and so human – in a good way this time! – because it just wants to be love, he just wants to be warm, to have enough food, to not be alone and lonely. Even after Elisabeth’s murder (and rape… I wasn’t happy with this addition, but I could understand it, and the self-hatred of the creature just after), you empathize with him, because Frankenstein was the sinner! He created life and abandonned it the second after! He just offered one lesson to his creation: rejection…


But I even have some pity for Frankenstein at the end (I think because of the play, and the acting of Jonny Lee Miller), he neither doesn’t know really what love is, he is so a cold scientic mind, he was in a way abandonned too in his dreams of greatness and could see the happiness was just, well, Elisabeth! I dream he could have accomplished great things with his knowledge if he wasn’t that childhish. and he could have accomplish great things with his creature… All this reflexions come from the way they have organized and play the story.

As for the play itself.. A lot of good actors, but, Mr. Cumberbatch is perfect. He has the best part ! Jonny Lee Miller is great too as the doctor, but I feel is acting a little aggressive, again, I wait for the other version… His Frankenstein is really cold, but so interresting, less childish than in the novel.


The scenery is purely amazing! Not many things on stage, but the sky… such a good idea! and I love the simple stage set, who permits to concentrated on the acting, but which keep the illusion (the house of Frankenstein’s father, and the fisherman cottage for exemple). I love the empty hole they use to symbolised the mountains where Victor and the Creature had their first meeting.

Showing the creature’s bride is too a good idea, it’s much crueller when Frankenstein distroys her, like a murder, and it’s an announcement of Elisabeth’s murder. A little bit like if Frankenstein is also his own creature (I don’t know if you follow me on this… he is another monster he has created)

The chat between the creature and Elisabeth is moving (nothing like this in the novel), all the more because he’s about to kill her, and she is the only one (except the blind all man – but there were the blindness) to accept him. But it was too late… And even if « Frankenstein » is a tragedy, there is some fun parts, who lighted the tension, some very good lines and fun.

Mr Miller as the creature :

JLM as creatureWe have lost something… The spell of the first time! So, this will be more about the 2 different performances of the actors than about the play itself.

It was still a bliss! All the cast is amazing and I love the scenography (I love the sky! all this bulbs… such a inspired idea). The switching of the parts is obvious from the first minute. JLM has choosen to be a more childish monster. It’s a kid who emerges from the womb. For BC it is longer and more difficult, it is a fight with a anormal life which appears. I much more prefer this first version as it sticks with my idea of the « creation » of the monster and as it prefigures what will be the life of the monster. Then, I think the approach of Cumberbatch is stronger, because the monster is not a newborn, but a victim of an experiment, so his way of moving at the begining (which remains to the end, but in a more discreet way), like AVC or accidents victims is a very good choice.

A scene is important for me concerning this difference of approach, it’s when Elisabeth and the creature sit on the bed. BC continues to move his hands and legs with a small shaking, but JLM has his hands still on his legs. I feel as there is an evolution on the way of speaking of Cumberbatch’s creature more important than Miller’s. f

I don’t want to critize Miller, because he’s great. His creature is more childish at the beginning, and more angry after, and maybe if I had seen his version first I would be less critic. But, I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch’s creature. And, yes, I prefer his doctor, nearly for the same reason. Miller’s doctor was really angry, Cumberbatch has moments of anger, but gentle moments too. 929

I really love the final scene of the second version, as BC is gentler than Miller. Yes, it’s really my point, not that the creature (or Victor) is not authorized to be angry. It has all the reason in the world to be, but I prefer a more subtil approach. I feel that BC’s performance as the creature is exceptionnal.

For the fun, I have a bliss moment when Elisabeth says to Victor « People are dull », and Mr. Cumberbatch can’t hold a smile (he has hidden it very quicky). Naomi Harris’s face was on screen at the moment, but the short pause before the words, and the smile… I’m sure she did it on purpose, and It a brilliant exemple of how theatre people could be playful even with a camera is around.

To conclude, I prefer the first version, but the second as the same quality. Brilliants actors, smart writing,amazing scenery. I think Nick Dear and Danny Boyle have really found the essence of the novel.

En Français : ICI

Une réflexion sur “Frankenstein at the National Theatre

  1. Pingback: Frankenstein au National Theatre | Les Livres, Mes Livres & Moi

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