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Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
MARY SHELLEY was an enigma. Slight, weak and sickly pale, she eloped at 16 and by 20 had endured two pregnancies resulting in one death, with the other infant dying shortly afterwards
And yet she was the author of one of the most profound novels ever written. Dressed up as gothic horror, Frankenstein is not only the embryo of modern sci-fi, it is a highly political and proudly feminist book.
In the two centuries since she created her monster, Frankenstein has been reimagined in music, stage and film and even been appropriated by capitalism in order to sell all manner of kitsch. April De Angelis’s new adaptation for the Royal Exchange, lovingly faithful to Shelley’s original, is problematic.
The book’s structure — part epistle, part narrative and part autobiography, with the narrative meandering across time and space — is difficult to interpret for the stage. The dramatic difficulties this creates occasionally cause the action to plod but things burst into life once the monster explodes onto the scene.
Harry Attwell, inhabiting the very soul of Shelley’s beast, is wonderful. He’s as complex as the miles of intricate stitching holding together his decaying body parts and Attwell beautifully captures the raging furnace burning inside The Creature, an anger driven by the knowledge that his miserable and tortured existence is purely down to Victor Frankenstein’s vanity.
Perhaps a more stripped back adaptation would have overcome the dramatic difficulties and delivered the author’s message that demonising the outsider leads to hatred and tragedy more powerfully.
As Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft eloquently put it: “Misanthropy is ever the offspring of discontent.”
Runs until April 14, box office: royalexchange.co.uk
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