Frankenstein at the Brockley Jack Theatre
When a stage is next to the local pub, one can’t help their scepticism. The Brockley Jack is a tiny venue, seating no more than 50 people who surround the performers on three sides. The lighting is bleak yet colourful, like the poster for The Exorcist, and spectators are wrapped in fake fog. The scepticism rises. How can this theatre-group transform a story that’s already been done to death and forced back to life again and again? But within ten minutes, these doubts are set on fire.
Theatre company Arrows & Traps specialise in electrifying classic texts for modern audiences. In their latest production of Frankenstein, adapter and director Ross McGregor tells a more fragmented version of events. Starting with Mary Shelley (Cornelia Baumann) on stage, the revered writer is pulled back-and-forth between scrambled chapters in Frankenstein and the tragic events that inspired them. She appears as a nostalgic phantom within both timelines, as fact and fiction become blurred.
McGregor’s English degree shines through this production as the viewer enjoys an entertaining comparative analysis between the text and the tragic influences in the author’s life. They align together, bringing a new sadness to the narrative. The play does jump too much between the different timelines, frustrating an already complicated structure and anyone unfamiliar with the original story will be dumbfounded by the display. But one does feel like a scholar by the end.
The Arrows & Traps wackiness is overdone at times, particularly during the Creature’s reanimation scene. The room is shrouded in darkness for a Tron-like light show that doesn’t feel appropriate for the human tone of the piece. Neither does the dramatic music, which feels better suited to a cheesy blockbuster.
The length of the play is also an issue. At two-and-a-half hours, the audience twitches in their seats. There are many irrelevant subplots within the Shelley timeline that serve only to stunt the story, and wouldn’t be missed if taken out. The diversion with Shelley’s sister’s relationship with Lord Byron feels especially superfluous. Nevertheless, it is an enlightening experience.
A thoughtful and energetic adaptation, Arrows & Traps brings new life to an old classic. With humorous and emotional performances all round, especially from Baumann and Will Pinchin as the Creature, this is a production that will fiddle with audience anticipations to create a shocking surprise.
Photo: Arrows & Traps Theatre
Frankenstein is at the Brockley Jack Theatre from 26th September until 21st October 2017. For further information or to book visit the Brockley Jack Theatre website here.
Watch a behind-the-scenes video about the production here: