Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre

Having seen this production of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel twice, with the spectacular duo of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in both leading roles, I can safely say I am an enthused Danny Boyle fan. Slumdog Millionaire brought a solitary tear to my eye, and Frankenstein left me exuding tears of delight.

Courtesy of Mark Tildesley, the set is a subtle spectacular of grey, an eerie atmosphere which is exploded by the flashes of light from the superb web of bulbs on the ceiling above the stage. The lengthy scene of the monster evolving, writhing on the floor and taking his first stuttering steps is followed by a haze of activity, notably the phenomenal steam engine. Along with tracks and sleepers, this simple yet amazingly effective representation of industrialisation is highlighted through a booming and echoing soundtrack One of the most impressive scenes in the play involves the Creature’s enraptured discovery of nature, first feeling the sun on his face and then rain pouring down onto his head (yes, real water!). Boyle left the electrifying duo Underworld in charge of the music, and they certainly did not disappoint, with their liberating song ‘Dawn of Eden’ creating a magical vista to admire.

Even with all this theatrical brilliance, nothing can take the limelight away from the cast. Say goodbye to the bolt-necked Boris Karloff, and hello to the role-swapping master plan that involves Cumberbatch and Miller switching characters each night. It is a fascinating idea, which could only work if done this well. I mean, I cannot exactly imagine Starsky and Hutch expertly changes roles like Boyle’s pair can.

Just as the Creature is born from dug-up bones, guts and body parts conjured together through innovative science, Boyle has bred a chilling concoction of superb actors that bring to life a story rife with sentiment, humour and emotional depth. The differences in the actors come in their portrayal of the Creature. Cumberbatch is superb in the sensitive side of the role, in his reciting of Milton and Shakespeare and revealing his raw, aching emotion and yearning for love. Miller, with his stockier frame, is designed for displaying the pure foaming menace that comes with being Dr. Frankenstein’s nemesis and the hellish desires he possesses.

Although the script can be a little lax at times, the play in its entirety is a triumph, and one that you certainly will not regret seeing twice. 

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