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THE National Youth Theatre’s Frankenstein opens with Sonny Poon Tip’s Garth standing on stage and telling the audience that, “like fax machines,” virtual reality will soon make actual theatres obsolete.
It’s a gutsy claim but then everything about this production is robust, from the performances of the National Youth Theatre’s young actors to the radical edit of Mary Shelley’s two-centuries-old novel.
Technology is at the heart of Carl Miller’s adaptation, in which Frankenstein’s monster (Sarah Lusack) is AI and, in an excellent sequence, the audience experience the action through VR headsets.
The themes here are certainly weighty in this radical reworking of the classic gothic novel, which poses questions around the deployment of the world’s resources, along with an intriguing and textured engagement with technology and its ethics. But the cast handle them with a maturity that belies their youth.
Ella Dacres gives us an excellent, gender-swapped, Victoria Frankenstein. Idealistic and ambitious, she traverses the promenade stage with a self-contained drive, while Lusack undergoes subtle and moving transformations as her ability to feel, and her sense of betrayal, develop.
In the supporting cast, Tiwalade Ibirogba-Olulode brings depth to the humorous and entertaining, if tragic, character of Willa.
Yet the performances are somewhat let down by Miller’s script. Bringing the story into the 21st century is great, as are the gender swaps, but sometimes the jumps between scenes, themselves very truncated, don’t allow space to fully explore the issues.
But when Victoria and her monster have an extended scene, with Dacres and Lusack given room to build a riveting and complex tension as they fully explore their relationship, there's a glimpse at how complicated the ethical questions are.
Garth’s opening pronouncements about VR’s threat to theatre are premature but what these young performers show is that tech, and this National Youth Theatre company, certainly have a place in its future.
Runs until 30 November, box office: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.
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