Danny Boyle's Frankenstein Viewing 2.0

Three cheers for the alternate cassting! The wonderful manager of my local cinema had heard about the problems last week, and had kindly made it possible for me to see the Millerstein/Creaturebatch version.

My biggest worry going in was that the double casting had in fact been nothing but a money grab, and that Miller and Cumberbatch would be less than brilliant in their opposite roles. I can honestly say that this isn't something that should have worried me at all. Both actors approached the other role with the same ingenuity and creativity as in the original casting.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature was very different from Johnny Lee Miller's. Whereas Miller's Creature is one who was acutely aware of his intelligence and otherness (when he says 'maybe I'm a genius, too', one feels that there is no maybe about it), Cumberbatch's Creature comes from a completely different place. One still feels his intelligence, and his humanity, but he acts more like a child than Miller.

In the opening scene, Miller's Creature nurtures himself. One senses the loss of parents which never existed as he rocks himself, helps himself to stand and run, and starts vocalizing. One gets the sense that he is growing up even when he's newborn. Whereas much of the initial choreography is the same for Cumberbatch, he does not rock himself like Miller does, and at the end, he tries to go back into the womb which bore him, which Miller doesn't do. Completely different choices that make for completely different Creatures.

With Cumberbatch, I got the sense that he is more openly affected by the world than Miller. Whereas Miller's Creature is very bitter, and remembered all the bad, Cumberbatch's Creature continues to recall the good parts of his existence as well. For instance, he continues to imitate de Lacey and his mannerisms far into the play's action, and hardly ever in a negative way.

Cumberbatch's special emphasis on certain words promoted a continuity of his thoughts that I could follow very clearly. I did not make the connection between the Creature's fascination with snow at the De Lacey cottage and the frozen wasteland of the last scene until this showing, and that's only because he emphasizes a reference to snow during the scene with the Bride. I felt really quite stupid.

A couple of problems I had with Cumberbatch's performance was his ridiculous hyperactivity and his tendency to be silly at delicate moments in the play's action. Bird calls are never ever appropriate to insert in a highly dramatic monologue, even when it's Benedict Cumberbatch making them. Of all the things. However, these are pretty small problems I had with his performance. Overall he was awesome.

I wasn't sure how Johnny Lee Miller's Doctor would measure up to Cumberbatch's. It felt to me like Cumberbatch was pretty much perfect in the role of Victor Frankenstein, and I wasn't sure what Miller would bring to it. I miscalculated; he brought emotion.

How these two actors went about portraying someone who doesn't feel love varied. With Cumberbatch, you can see that he does not feel the need to hide his detachment; he sees it as an asset rather than an issue, and it's only at the end that he realizes how lacking that basic part of the human experience makes him less human than his creation. He does not care for Elizabeth, and seems to forget about or discount the death of his brother William.

With Miller, I felt like he'd had the realization of his own monstrosity around the beginning of the play, when he abandons the Creature. He locks himself in his room at Geneva out of guilt and shame, not fear. He realizes that he abandoned something that was helpless and entirely his creation. This, and not dislike, is why he postpones his marriage to Elizabeth; the idea of having children 'the usual way' terrifies him, because he now knows that he's capable of detachment and abandonment, and that it is incredibly easy. Already weary with his acknowledgement of his own monstrosity, the monologue at the end where he speaks of his incapability of love is just as touching as Cumberstein's, but in a vastly different way.

The Sistine Chapel moment at the end is actually averted. It looks like the Doctor is about to take the Creature's hand, but he points to the great yonder at the last moment and they continue their never-ending chase without that contact.

Well, I had a long and wonderful journey with this particular play/broadcast, but now that the encore presentations are done and whatnot, I think it's time to bid farewell to Danny Boyle's Frankenstein, one of the best adaptations I've seen on screen or on stage. For my previous takes on this show, click here and here.

Keep in mind that you can buy the script on e-book (totally worth it), and you can find the wonderful score by Underworld on iTunes (again, totally worth it).

To sign the petition to have this show on DVD, leave feedback at feedback@nationaltheatre.org.uk So far, there are no plans for such an endeavour on the NT's part, but I'm sure with enough interest those plans might change.

And, as always, if you can support the NT Live cinema broadcasts, then do. They have a great line-up this summer. Five years ago many would not have had the opportunity to see top-notch theatre on a whim. Bless the National Theatre for doing this, and always attend.

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