National Theatre's Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles Victor Frankenstein and the Creature
National Theatre’s Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature

In one of my latest posts, What I Did in Vienna, I mentioned that I went to see the broadcast of Frankenstein.

The original gothic novel by Mary Shelley was adapted into a play by Nick Dear and was shown at the National Theatre, London in 2011. It was directed by renown film director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and starred Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, 12 Years a Slave, Star Trek: Into Darkness, War Horse) and Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Elementary, Byron, Mansfield Park) alternating each night between the main roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creature.

Since 2009, the National Theatre has been broadcasting plays live from the stage to cinemas around the world. Due to great demand they decided to show the recording of Frankenstein (it had been broadcast live two years ago) again this year. [In case you are interested, here’s the link]

The version I saw had Benedict Cumberbatch playing the Creature. I thought the play was amazing: it was captivating and intriguing; never was there a dull moment. In my eyes the acting was outstanding as it came across as quite natural, neither pretentious nor pompous; the costumes and sets were impressive, as well. What was interesting about the set design was how it developed from being rather simplistic with only few props on stage to featuring more and more intricate details, depicting interiors and outdoor landscapes. These changes on stage helped to visualize the Creature’s transition from a childlike animal to an educated “human”, which in itself stood out about the play: contrary to the novel, the play focuses on Frankenstein’s creation rather than on himself. The audience is lead to root for “the monster” as it is part of his world from the beginning seeing how its first attempt to live in society failed, its need to live as an outsider, and its growing yearning for revenge.

The main themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were well incorporated in the play; there only were slight differences such as the character Clerval missing from the play, Creature befriending the old blind man who taught him how to read and write, and an added scene of the monster raping Elizabeth before killing her. None of these changes harmed the storyline, in fact they rather made sense as they depicted the creature’s change of character better.

The last thing I would like to point out is the casting. The two main actors, Cumberbatch and Miller, were both tremendously good and even made me forget that I was watching a play. I also loved that Boyle decided to cast two Black actors in the roles of Elizabeth Lavenza, Frankenstein’s fiancée, and Monsieur Frankenstein, his father. Unfortunately, I suppose it is still considered to be courageous casting non-White actors in originally “White roles”. Neither of the two characters were Black in the novel; however, it did not interfere with the storyline or feel out of place at all. These casting choices displayed a form of integrity in theatre, which I hope will become more prominent. To this day actors of colour most of the time only get to play characters of colour (i.e. characters that are explicitly not White), which leaves them with roles mainly in Black American, African, Asian, etc plays (…or Othello).

Naomie Harris as Elizabeth Lavenza
Naomie Harris as Elizabeth Lavenza
George Harris as M. Frankenstein
George Harris as M. Frankenstein

All in all, I think it must have been an extraordinary experience seeing Frankenstein live at the theatre (it already was fantastic on screen) and I’d advice anyone interested to go and see it!!! :)


2 thoughts on “Frankenstein

    1. Honestly, you really should!!! :) Check if they are showing it at your local cinema!! Oh yes, I would love to see both versions as well, but unfortunately they are not showing it in my town :( In case you managed to see it let me know what you thought!! Lauren


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