Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Frankenstein, One More Time

I am compelled, as they say in horror films, to write just one more post on the National Theatre's version of Frankenstein. I saw the switched-lead cast this afternoon, and I still am reeling.

Everything I wrote about the production starring Benedict Cumberbatch holds for this version. I came away with the same feeling of awe and pride in a theatre that would take itself this seriously on every level. The actors, technical effects, lighting and set design, all were virtually the same in the Jonny Lee Miller production, and the impact both had on me was equal.

The difference was, the second time, that I knew what would happen next. I looked forward to seeing Jonny Lee Miller when he confronts his maker, and watching that particular sparring match was equally thrilling both times. My mind was wrapped up in the arguments--who was the real monster here, the power-mad genius who created the creature, or the creature who has become a killing machine? Maybe because I'd seen it before, I picked up some things in the second viewing, or maybe they were in sharper relief in this production. But I came away clearly aware that the author was telling us that the scientist, who admits he doesn't know what love is like, has actually created a man with a soul more sensitive and self-aware than he is. He must kill the creature not, as he rationalizes, to save those who might be murdered, but because his experiment yielded a more complicated result than he was capable of dealing with. The two are symbiotic by the end, and exist in an existential dance of anger that will echo through the ages.

I suspect Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Frankenstein was better in the role, illuminating that moment when the monster defines love for him, and maybe Jonny Lee Miller was a better monster as he was imminently watchable in his graceful evolution in the role.

That is to say, I found the Miller-monster version more to my liking, and I'm not 100% clear why. From this day forward I am a fan of both actors, and I have always been a fan of England's National Theatre. Having an institution as precious as this one is a triumph of many arts, and a treasure for a country that has known the true importance of fine theatre throughout its history.

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