Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster
Battersea Arts Centre and BAC Beatbox Academy
Contact Theatre, Manchester
May 10-14, 2022; 80min
Mary Shelley was barely 19 when she first published her astonishing novel Frankenstein in 1818. For all its precocious philosophising, in its energy and enthusiasm, it is a very youthful work – and in that it is matched by this stage version by the Battersea Beatbox Academy.
Youth is the keynote here. Battersea is devoted to promoting opportunities for young people, often with no previous experience of theatre, to do stage work of various kinds. This award-winning production combines singing, rap, physical theatre, lighting and spoken word with beatboxing, which, for those of us with no previous experience, is the use of the mouth and microphone to create a variety of sounds to be used in music. Supported by a strongly percussive sound deck, this is the show’s most distinctive feature and a bold initiative in bringing these young performers' own idiom to the stage.
There are six performers, including some very good singing voices, and all their work is powerfully committed physically and vocally. It is presented as it was conceived as an ensemble show, and contributions are equally shared. They pick up in their various "chapters" – themes from Shelley’s novel that particularly engage them in the present-day: the concept of "genius" in an era of robotics and AI, "growing pains" and the failings of society. For instance, in the novel, the monster conceives the possibility of being a perfect human being, until disabused by the reaction of society to his physical presence. This is covered here by a number about Being Perfect in a world dominated by social media.
The question "what does it mean to be alive?" is one that is as urgent here as it was for Shelley’s monster, "stitched together" as this show has it.
All this makes for a novel and inspiriting night in the theatre. It takes the concept of adaptation for the stage to a whole new dimension. Pride and Prejudice a la Downton Abbey it is not. Whether or not however it serves the novel’s narrative or themes entirely I am less sure. There is a sad side to Mary Shelley’s vision which is all but lost in the sheer enjoyment of this show.
What does it mean to be alive indeed?
Info and tickets here