Review – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Liverpool Playhouse

By Nigel Smith

In her programme note, author Rona Munro describes the dilemma she was faced with on being asked to write a new stage version of Frankenstein. There have been so many previous adaptations in every possible medium that she needed to find a new angle.

Her solution was to place the 18 year old author at the centre of the story and, in so doing, she has arguably created a new monster in the form of Mary Shelley herself.

In a way, what Munro does here is to tell two stories at once; that of the book itself and another about the psychology of Shelley during the writing process. The result is somewhat confused but certainly very creepy.

Eilidh Loan plays the young writer, scuttling about the stage pushing a writing desk about, as she weaves in and out of the plot she is laying. If she had been used as a simple framing device and, maybe, observed the action from an eerie atop the set, then this layering may have worked. However it is her characters who spend most of their time high up on the second tier of the set, with her centre stage for much of the time, interjecting, commenting, sometimes explaining and now and again interacting with the likes of Frankenstein and his monster.

Frankenstein himself, played with considerable lightness of touch by Ben Castle Gibb seems a distracted, tragic almost Byronesque character, whilst Michael Moreland’s very physical portrayal of the monster would not look out of place in the Royal Ballet’s version.

Almost the star of this production is its design. Becky Minto’s impressively architectural set is all balconies, windows and layers. Its clean lined sculptural form, adorned with leafless trees, comes to vivid life under Grant Anderson’s dramatic lighting. Meanwhile it is Simon Slater’s composition and sound design that gives the show most of its atmosphere, and delivers the necessary occasional electrical shock to the audience.

Director Patricia Benecke keeps all the plates spinning in the interwoven narrative, but never quite achieves anything approaching tension or suspense. Munro says that she hopes this play ‘terrifies you’. What it does is to intrigue and tease, and very occasionally to startle.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a Sellador production and is at the Playhouse until 16th November, after which it continues touring nationwide with dates booking through to March 2020.

Rating: Three Stars