National Theatre Live’s spectacular production of “Frankenstein” is back at Tivoli Cinemas for a limited time. The show was a sell-out during its original opening in 2011 and has since become a theatrical triumph. It is now broadcast annually in select locations due to ferocious audience demand.
This demand is, without a doubt, primarily due to the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s “Sherlock”) and Johnny Lee Miller (CBS’s “Elementary”) were cast as the Creature and Frankenstein. To add to this superb casting decision, Cumberbatch and Miller each played both roles. One night Cumberbatch would play the Creature and Miller and would play Frankenstein, and the following night they would switch. However, as exquisite as these two actors are, it takes an equally powerful script for a play to be an overall success.
Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Nick Dear transformed Mary Shelley’s classic novel “Frankenstein” into a visceral, mesmerizing and beautifully grotesque play. Although Boyle and Dear made the artistic choice to start from the Creature’s perspective, thus eliminating almost all of Frankenstein’s exposition, the stage plot is dutifully true to the book.
The production opens with a nearly bare stage, dimly lit by deep red light. The only set piece is a circular frame about seven feet tall with canvas material stretched taut across it. A constellation of lights hanging from the theater’s ceiling flashes like a storm across a night sky. A new light shines behind the circular frame and reveals a figure inside. It is the Creature. The Creature comes to life and forces its way out of the canvas. The next few minutes are an illustration of the Creature figuring out how to walk and adapt to simply being alive. Shortly after this, Frankenstein enters. In his bewilderment, Frankenstein throws a robe over the Creature and abandons it.
The Creature is left alone and frightened in the street. A series of people beat and berate him in fear of his appearance and inability to speak. The Creature eventually finds his way to a small cabin hidden in the woods. There, a blind man nurtures him and teaches him how to speak, read and reason. However, the Creature is chased away by the blind man’s children. In his despondency, the Creature seeks vengeance on all who have wronged him.
He travels back to where Frankenstein abandoned him and then lures Frankenstein atop a mountain. After the Creature confronts his master’s wrongdoing, he insists that Frankenstein must create a female or else he will continue with his murderous vendetta. Frankenstein consents.
The play then switches to Frankenstein’s perspective. He relentlessly toils away at his new creation in an isolated cottage somewhere off the cliffs of Scotland. Frankenstein becomes consumed with his task at hand. Just when it seems as though he has confused the powers of man and God, the Creature arrives to collect his bride.
Frankenstein unveils his immaculate creation. He flaunts her before the Creature, taunting him with her perfection. He tells the Creature she can only be his if he promises to love her. The Creature pleads with every feeling he knows how to display, vowing to cherish her for eternity. Frankenstein then takes a knife and butchers her as he rebukes the Creature, assuring him that he cannot comprehend what it is to love because he has no soul—he is a monster and nothing more.
The events that occur after this must be spared. The ending is far too stirring to be revealed to anyone who has not yet read the book or seen the production. It is staged so brilliantly that it leaves even audience members who have read the book entranced. This production may be the finest adaptation of Frankenstein yet.
The spectacle is astounding. The set design is both stripped to its rawest potential in some scenes and dressed to its eeriest in others. Cumberbatch and Miller each evoke a multitude of emotions as the two characters. The roller coaster ride from empathetic to disdainful to mystified to speechless is arduously exhilarating. Cumberbatch and Miller are extraordinary actors and they prove exactly why two times over.
The remaining broadcasts will be shown on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7:15 p.m. (Cumberbatch as Frankenstein and Miller as the Creature), Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 4:15 p.m. (Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Frankenstein) and again at 7:15 p.m. (Cumberbatch as Frankenstein and Miller as the Creature). For additional ticketing information, visit tivolikc.com. Do not miss the opportunity to see this production—it may not come again.