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Frankenstein at Theatre Works

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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You've never seen Frankenstein like this before

You may think you are familiar with the story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster, but you've probably never seen it as an 80s synth pop musical. This reimagining of Mary Shelley's iconic work takes it to places you've never imagined it could go, involving chicken kiev, wise rabbits and a couple of catchy tunes thrown in for good measure.

One of the major changes writer Lally Katz has made to Shelley's text is reframing Frankenstein's creation not as a grotesque creature, but as a young girl. This transforms the relationship between the two to become one of father and child, Victor so ill-equipped to look after the needs of another living being that he cannot bear to even name it. As his Creation is cast out and left to fend for herself, we see her try to stitch together some kind of identity and continually failing as the Creation, Chantelle Jamieson is equal parts amusing and heartbreaking, a particular highlight being the scene in which she teaches herself language by imitating bird calls, cawing into the night. Her relationship with Michael McStay's Victor is painful and wrought with frustration, as she repeatedly asks 'Will you have room in your heart for me?'

One of the challenges of tackling such a well-known story is dealing with characters who may already be well known to the audience there is a tricky balance between re-inventing and merely relying on old tropes to develop the characters. Frankenstein is fairly short length-wise, and it moves at a fairly breakneck speed, leaping from one moment to another. I found myself wishing that a little more time had been spent on developing the characters so that the parallels and differences between the original text and these new incarnations of Victor and The Creation could be even stronger. Despite that, the emotional beats of the play are still strong, and the closing moments in which The Creature mourns the loss of her only family reinforces the sense of personal displacement felt throughout the piece.

The highlight of this production of Frankenstein is the way in which it revels in its own theatricality. Phil Rouse's direction allows it to switch easily from New Order-style musical number to emotional unravelling, freed from the constraints of naturalism. The fight scene between Victor and The Creation is beautifully choreographed and exemplifies the way theatre can be inventive and surprising. The use of Martin Quinn as an onstage assistant stage manager is brilliant, as he follows the cast around like a particularly dextrous shadow. It is these elements and the bold changes to Shelley's original text that make this iteration of Frankenstein so compelling, allowing us to see a familiar story in such a strange and unexpected way.
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Why? For those with a love of Gothic fiction and synth pop musicals.
When: Thursday July 20th - Sunday July 29th
Where: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St St Kilda Vic 3182 Australia
Cost: $25.00 - $38.00
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