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Review: Frankenstein at Brisbane Arts Theatre

Review by Sarah Skubala

 

Brisbane Arts Theatre have produced a high quality, full-length production of Frankenstein, directed by Nick Scotney and adapted by R.N. Sandberg. Seattle playwright Sandberg was commissioned by Intiman Theatre to re-work Mary Shelley's classic 1818 novel, and it made its world premiere in 1989. The action takes place aboard a ship sailing for the Arctic where the mortally ill Victor Frankenstein is hoping to find and kill his creation.

 

Frankenstein is cleverly presented in a series of flashbacks and fever dreams, and the entire cast and production team are to be commended for their creative efforts. Aside from the actors, special mention must go to the sound and lighting departments, who set the tone on opening night before the actors even graced the stage. Sound Designer Zoe Power delivered a haunting soundtrack underscored by a beating heart. Pre-recorded lines of dialogue echoed at pertinent moments to punctuate the recounting of terrifying memories, and intermittent thunderclaps heightened the dramatic tension. Lighting Designer George Pitt expertly aided the transitions between present day and memories, with excellent spotlight work that was particularly dramatic.

 

Victor Frankenstein and the Creature were played by Reagan Warner and Nick Scotney respectively, and the pair would not be out of place in a professional version of this production. Reagan embodied the conflicted, obsessed 18th century scientist to perfection. He authentically reflected his mania during the creation scene and his crazed expressions were appropriately disturbing. Nick’s towering height and build helped create a believably supernatural character, especially considering the original Creature was supposed to be eight feet tall. As a corpse that’s been brought back to life and has had to learn to speak again, Nick’s vocals were exactly as you’d imagine them. It was heartbreaking to watch his story unfold, and Nick exceptionally portrayed Creature’s loneliness and torment.

 

Madelyn Carthew played Elizabeth with warmth and maturity as both dutiful partner and loving daughter. She was a striking figure in the fever dream sequences and had a great sense of stillness on stage. It’s worth clarifying that in the original novel, Elizabeth was adopted into the Frankenstein family as an orphan but later became Victor’s wife. References to her character as Victor’s sister elicited some confusion from the audience, but for what it’s worth, technically they were not biologically related.

 

Holly Lightbody played the dual roles of Justine in Act One and Mate in Act Two, and she particularly shone in the latter role, joyfully embodying the corpse bride-to-be with her curly red hair and zombie ballerina characterisation.

 

Barry Haworth also played dual roles as Victor’s father and university professor, and he deftly switched between roles with quick offstage costume changes. His physicality and accent work helped clearly define the two characters. Isaiah Harrison had the difficult task of bookending the play in the supporting character of Captain Walton, and his opening scenes were executed with ease and charm.

 

A period drama requires expert costumes and sets, and this production was in capable hands with Costume and Set Designer Nick Scotney, who has an extensive background in professional costuming. The attention to detail ensured complete immersion in the story and the time just flew by.

 

Frankenstein raises questions about the importance of love, the influence of acceptance within the family unit and its connection to self-esteem, society’s obsession with beauty and its ableist attitudes. The story is so tragic it is almost Shakespearian, with almost every character dead by the end of the play.

 

I appreciated the hard copy program, and I’m surely not the only one who still loves this theatre tradition. A QR code to an online version is just not the same. The air conditioning inside the theatre was turned up to full and helped transport the Brisbane endless summer audience to the Arctic, so it’s worth bringing a layer of clothing as it was a little icy. This was my first visit to the Brisbane Arts Theatre, and I am excited to see what the future holds for ‘The Biggest Little Theatre in Australia,’ as it was named in 2016.

 

Given the recent success of Queensland Theatre’s season of Gaslight, it’s clear that Brisbane audiences still have a taste for new retellings of classic stories. In that regard, Frankenstein is a must-see production, especially for fans of gothic psychological drama. Community theatre doesn’t get much better than this.


Image Supplied

 

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