Friday, April 8, 2011

National Theatre's Frankenstein

I went to a play at the movies yesterday - Frankenstein from England's National Theatre - and it was terrific, despite a technical glitch that delayed the start for 45 minutes!

Two actors - Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller - alternate the roles of the creature and Victor Frankenstein. Cumberbatch was the creature at the performance I saw - and he was mesmerizing. Miller was so absorbing as the conflicted scientist who brings him to life.

I don't like horror stories so Frankenstein, directed by filmmaker Danny Boyle, wouldn't have been my first choice for my first NTLive screening. But I loved Cumberbatch as world's most famous consulting detective in Sherlock. Plus, what an appropriate show to bring my blog back to life.

Frankenstein opens with a 15-minute spastic ballet as the creature, arms and legs flailing, attempts to stand up. He's awkward and his appearance is shocking, with train-track sutures running across his head and down his face. (I can see why two actors play the creature, it's physically demanding.)

Cumberbatch manages to make the creature both terrifying and sympathetic. He gradually becomes "civilized," learning to speak and read, yet you never forget that he's a monster. He simply wants to be loved despite his appearance and yet all he learns in his contact with humans is deception and hatred and fear.

If there's a villain in playwright Nick Dear's adaptation of Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel, it's Victor Frankenstein. He's arrogant and stubborn, obsessed with his work, cold toward the people who love him.

What I found fascinating is that Miller's Frankenstein knows he's made a mistake. He's horrified by the violent creature that he's brought to life. At the same time, he's kind of proud of what he's done. There's definitely some attraction/repulsion at work here.

I was afraid seeing a filmed play might be kind of stilted and talky but I thought this production was stunning - the music, the lighting, the sets all create kind of a gloomy, eerie, foreboding atmosphere. There were a couple of moments where I felt a little squeamish and one that genuinely startled me.

The National Theatre films several productions a year and shows them in venues around the world. They're a little more expensive than a regular movie - my ticket was $15. But they're worth checking out if you love theatre and a trip to London isn't in your future.


Faheem Mumtaz said...

Frankenstein is also my favorite movie. Its the classic peace of art. Just love it

Esther said...

Thanks so much for your comment! Did you get a chance to see this production? I always thought of Frankenstein as simply a horror story but there's a lot to think about. Victor Frankenstein and the creature are two fascinating characters.

Dale said...

Sounds like an interesting production. I knew they broadcast operas but haven't seen any productions like this on offer, I'll check though. Luckily, I do have a trip to London and Paris in the offing for May and I'll be checking out what's good to see before I go. Nice to see / read you again.

JK said...

Welcome back, Esther!

This review makes me want to see it! I love Jonny Lee Miller, too.


Esther said...

Thanks Dale! I think the National Theatre just started the broadcasts a year ago but there wasn't a cinema near me that was showing them. It seems like they've expanded the number of venues, so there's probably one near you. Have a wonderful time in London and Paris. You are lucky!

Esther said...

Awww, thanks Jeff! Wish I could go back and see the roles reversed, with Jonny as the creature. This was my first time seeing him in anything. And I think it worked well as a broadcast. You got lots of closeups of Frankenstein and the creature.

Btw, their final broadcast of the season is The Cherry Orchard.

It's great to see more shows being filmed. I'm hoping to see Roundabout's The Importance of Being Earnest. And Memphis is coming up in movie theatres, too.

Kathy said...

Esther, It is so great to have you back. I have been checking from time to time, and didn't think I'd find anything new today, and there it was!

We had a theater showing these but it closed. I don't have one near me now. I do see the Met opera movies, and that company seems to be advertising Memphis, which I don't really want to see, and the Los Angeles Symphoney Concerts, which I may see.

But I wish we had the other theater back again.

Anyway, mostly I'm glad you are back, and look forward to reading you in the future.

Esther said...

Hey Kathy, great to hear from you! And thank-you so much for the kind words. I really appreciate them.

It does make me mad that multiplexes can show the same new Hollywood release on a half-dozen screens at once, yet don't have room for something like a theatre production. I haven't been able to find anyplace near me that's showing Earnest.

I saw Memphis on Broadway and while I enjoyed it, I probably won't see it again at the movies. But if you haven't seen it, the choreography is great and Montego Glover has a powerful voice.

I'm not sure how much I'll post in the future but I am heading to New York next week to see some shows so maybe I'll get inspired!

And thanks again for reading. I had no idea I was missed!