“Please do not be inconsistent, I find it infuriating”
The main stumbling block for me though, and usual caveats about previews aside, was that it does have to be said that this is a generally shockingly bad script at the minute. I don’t think there is a single supporting character afforded any real depth in here by Dear’s writing nor a single scene that is allowed to pass without painfully simplistic explanations therefore dragging out too many scenes to interminable length. In some cases, the quality of actor manages to transcend the material, John Stahl brings a wry Celtic humour to his grave-robber, I quite liked Karl Johnson as the kindly De Lacey and Ella Smith is extremely charismatic with the meagrest of lines as the maid in the Frankenstein’s house. But Naomie Harris is saddled with a deal of (what felt to me like) anachronistic sassiness to many of her lines which didn’t fit well with the character and her own dilemmas, consequently she struggled to form a believable bond with Miller’s Victor. Whereas one feels that this is a fixable issue, George Harris’ M Frankenstein is a woefully inadequate performance at the moment: whether due to extenuating circumstances or misjudged direction, he is so very awkward, incredibly immobile, incongruously accented and extremely difficult to watch.
But even Victor doesn’t escape the weaknesses of the script. He is not presented as much of a character in this play, arriving midway through the show and given little opportunity to develop as he deals with incident after incident. By the time some back-story is given, through a most clumsily executed device, it is too little too late really although Miller gave it his all: as he arrives to see the Creature raping his new wife, he slumps to his knees rather than actually getting in there to stop him, which felt a bit like a metaphor for the show... The duels between these two characters are generally the strongest parts of the show though, the play really does crackle when it is about the pair of them and Cumberbatch and Miller clearly have great chemistry and seem to be relishing the prospect of the run ahead of them.
Against all this is the ingenuity in the set design from Mark Tildesley and a staging which utilises the opportunities offered by the Olivier in the most satisfying way I remember seeing since His Dark Materials. The drum is effectively used, revolving from the moment we enter the auditorium and rising intermittently to reveal a range of well-designed sets moving us from Geneva to Scotland and the North Pole amongst other places, keeping us very much in the 19th century although Boyle’s flair cannot resist the odd modern touch. Underworld’s sound-score is well done but becomes a little insistent at times, sounding too much like, well, Underworld but Bruno Poet’s lighting is excellently done throughout, none more so than with the already mentioned hanging light feature which is inventively used several times in the show.
The heavily teenaged crowd lapped it up and there was a good number of people of all ages giving a standing ovation which I found quite surprising to be honest. Cumberbatch’s performance was indeed electric but so much so that one longed for him to return to the stage in the scenes where he was not present. And no matter how flashy the design or the set, this should not distract from the fundamental weaknesses of this play which are glaring, at the moment. Perhaps it will improve before opening night which is indeed nearly three weeks away, a mightily long preview period; perhaps one really does need to see it both ways round, the added depth of seeing both interpretations making more sense to the production as a whole, I don’t really know. I cannot say that I am inclined to part with any more money to see it again to give you the benefit of both incarnations of this show, though I will be interested to hear what others have to say about it. For me though, this is one ginormous example of style; much classy style at that, let it be said, over substance.
Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 17th April at the moment although it is sold out, dates for May will go on sale in early March , according to their website
Note: a fair bit of male nudity (and a little female too) and many a flashing light contained within. Given a 15+ rating by the National themselves.