16 April 2011 and 21 April 2011: Dear, Frankenstein

National Theatre Live in HD Broadcast from London. Based on the novel by Mary Shelley. Featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. Directed by Danny Boyle. Amherst Cinema, Amherst, Massachusetts

We saw both versions of this double-cast amazing spectacular horror story by Nick Dear and decided that Benedict Cumberbatch made the better Victor Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller the better Creature. Each production had its own, somewhat different character. Nonetheless it was clear that a determined spectacular rendering can be given to a serious story about the creation of a human being, or rather a human-like separate species, through the brilliant use of a large stage with a manipulable, separable turn-table and the latest in lighting and special effects technology — to which has been added the technology required for live in HD broadcasting. The view is of course much different: for the theatre audience, viewing the proceedings from one fixed point, but able to see everything visible to everyone else; for the movie theatre audience, a view controlled entirely by the director and coordinator of the television cameras, able to call for close-up, medium shot, long shot, or otherwise exclusive or selective view, making the presentation something more of a hybrid theatre / cinema approach. Each has its own virtues and its own aesthetic.

They tell a common story, after Mary Shelley, about the creation of a humanoid creature by the brilliant Dr Frankenstein, who however loses control of his Creature almost immediately. It is let loose into a banefully imperfect world, full of evil and malevolence. Shelley’s story is a moral tale, as is this play, and it raises questions of the engagement of responsibility, the ethical principles that inevitably inhere in scientific experiment, and even more basic questions of the human need for warmth, opportunity for fellow-feeling, love, duty, the obligations of parenthood, and a host of other issues. I have to add that it is quite wonderful to see spectacle of this sort “mounted” on the large HD screen, and for a fraction of the price of a theatre ticket to this event.

We are slated to see two more HD productions this spring: the current New York production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Brian Bedford and starring Bedford as Lady Bracknell; and The Cherry Orchard, a National Theatre production.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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