Frankenstein, National Theatre: Olivier, London
Friday 25 February 2011
Nick Dear's taut, fiercely focused version of Frankenstein – a project that has brought Oscar-winning film-maker Danny Boyle back to his theatrical roots – offers a radically different ending from either Mary Shelley's 1818 novel (on which it is based) or the movie versions spawned by James Whale's 1931 classic. Here, in a luminously ice-green Arctic, the scientist Victor Frankenstein and his Creature both survive, umbilically linked in the kind of perpetual deathly symbiosis that would pass muster in Dante's Inferno.
As the pair made their final exit into the foaming ice-haze at the rear of the Olivier stage, one felt a weird, unprecedented combination of indefinitely postponed catharsis and real cliff-hanger suspense. How? Because Danny Boyle's extraordinarily haunting production is predicated on the notion of alternating the two leading actors – Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch – in the roles of Frankenstein and his galvanised handiwork. To get the full beauty of the concept, you would ideally see the production twice.
It's the same text on both occasions and the same viscerally creepy settings and ambience – replete with a thrusting triangular chandelier that flares and frazzles, a revolve that opens up into an Alpine abyss, and a bell-rope in the central aisle that you can pull and set off a teeth-rattling toll.
The role-reversal makes deep thematic sense because it highlights the irony whereby the son becomes the father and the slave the master. Broadly speaking, Cumberbatch emphasises the intellectual edge of both roles; Lee Miller takes us further into the feeling.
These are strikingly imaginative productions that pack a devastating cumulative punch and that score, in the altered dynamics of the central double act, a singular success.
To 2 May (020 7452 3000).
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