FRNKNSTN at Abbey Theatre. Photo: Ros KavanaghWhen Victor Frankenstein’s audience is running late, his disapproval, voiced in absurdly different transnational accents by Louis Lovett, seems benign. Yet, there’s something subtly oppressive in this masterful preamble and its advice about punters who arrive late: “Turn your back to them”.
In the hands of Theatre Lovett, Michael West’s lively new adaptation of Mary Shelly’s novel first appears with the affable face-front banter of a play for young audiences. It’s not long before it mutates into something darker: a Gothic horror reinvented as psychological thriller. From a jail cell, where he’s suspected of murder, Frankenstein recalls inventing his monster using the gene-splicing methods of today’s science.
Fans of Shelly’s novel will recognize West’s conceit straight away, when the scientist recounts an experience of freezing alive and thawing at sea. The fates of Frankenstein and his creature seem blurred, as if they were two different personalities of the same individual. In the kind of gripping horror that director Muireann Ahern’s exhilarating production moves towards, this risks letting the cat out of the bag too soon.
Even if it is obvious, the production dresses the realisation in entrancing design. Ger Clancy’s spare jail set can melt into an eerie laboratory and a dark forest under Sarah Jane Shiels’s remarkable lighting, itself full of thrilling new effects. Dunk Murphy’s ominous music, a surprise with church choirs and string orchestras, is as unexpected as Liadain Kaminska’s shocking costuming.
Commenting on recent murders, Frankenstein explains: “I am responsible for all of them. But it wasn’t me”. The character’s god complex, in Lovett’s performance, is colourfully punctuated with wit, comical gestures and haunting snatches of song. It’s a fun path towards hubris.
By comparison, the actor’s transformation into the creature, from his first convulsions on a laboratory bed, is striking. A lumber and staggering figure, agonising with loneliness, gives us the sense that Lovett is committed whole-heartedly to showing this despair. It feels, however, that such emotion is beyond the production’s abilities.
That suggests that aspects of the script are underwritten. There are signs of abandonment in Frankenstein’s story: the tragic loss of his mother, and the distancing of his father. The ways in which both contribute to his withdrawal into scientific research feels in need of fleshing out.
Then Frankenstein’s creature might become a more poignant picture of rejection. “I said no to him,” says the scientist, recalling the birth of his creation. “I turned my back on him”.
FRNKNSTN is on at Abbey Theatre until 1 September 2018. Click here for more details.