Frankenstein Revelations is a new version of the Mary Shelley novel, staged appropriately in the Victorian splendour of York Medical Society, a venue of which I wasn’t previously aware, and an ideal setting for Theatre Mill’s newly commissioned show.
Frankenstein Revelations by Theatre Mill
York Medical Society, Stonegate
Till Feb 25
This is not a straightforward adaptation of the novel. Instead, writer and director Nick Lane throws a traumatised, amnesiac Victor Frankenstein (Richard Keightley) through the doors of a makeshift hospital under siege during the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 to relate the story of his monstrous creation after the event, with a new and unexpected twist at the end.
His story is told to Doctor Gerber (Zach Lee) and Nurse Agatha (Viktoria Kay) in flashbacks, with all the other characters played by Kay and Lee.
The audience might be forgiven for feeling as disorientated as Frankenstein himself as they are hustled inside the venue by the team of community actors playing medical staff, wardens and lookouts.
On press night the actor ushering the audience in from Stonegate had competition from a developing brawl, but undeterred, never broke character for a second.
“I want it to be totally immersive!” declares Gerber as he prepares to administer a truth serum to Frankenstein. Producer Rebecca Stafford shares that vision, and while Gerber’s recipe involves cocaine, assorted hallucinogens and a dash of Bordeaux, Stafford achieves her aim with a meticulously realised set encompassing two rooms and several corridors of the building, dressed with scientific equipment and battle debris, with a soundtrack of heavy bombing.
Blood spatters the walls, stained sheets are hung everywhere, and a nun prays desperately in a corner.
The battlefield nurse behind the bar asked me with great concern about the evacuation, where I’d come from and whether my family were safe. I felt a bit bad asking her for a bottle of Hobgoblin.
Completely at ease
My fear of audience participation rose to scanning-for-exits levels as the reviewers were seated in the front row with our feet on the stage.
Would we be expected to interact? Would the actors fix us with a steely glare to deliver monologues? Worse still, would one of them trip over my Dr Martens?
I needn’t have worried. The immersive nature of the production complements rather than hinders the play itself, which is a superbly acted piece of storytelling: absorbing, intense and relevant.
The cast of three are absolutely at ease with the limited space and we are completely wrapped up in the story.
Not every aspect of the production is so successful in close-up: the costumes had something of the school play about them, with jarringly modern boots for the men and clothing cut into zigzag ‘rags’, Oliver!-style. The Creature (played by Zach Lee) also had issues with his bandages getting in his mouth.
The slow-motion fight scene was very effective; the same technique used for Victor’s destructive rage somewhat less so.
None of this, however, detracted from the cast’s performances, which were compelling and nuanced throughout. I also admired the restraint shown in revealing the Creature gradually and sparingly, where so many versions of the story overdo the shock and horror.
A welcome addition to the story is Lane’s use of humour, particularly in the person of Agatha (Viktoria Kay) whose considerable comic talent put me in mind of Pauline McLynn.
The pacing of the story is excellent throughout, and particularly in the second act. The scenes in the besieged infirmary move the action along rather than getting in the way of the story.
Frankenstein Revelations is an excellent piece of theatre and a compelling new take on a familiar tale – don your hard hat and go, but be sure to keep the secret…