April 16, 2011 and April 21, 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. Dir. by Danny Boyle. Amherst Cinema, Amherst, Massachusetts.

We saw both versions of this double-cast, amazing, spectacular horror story 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 turntable 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, which 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.


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

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