National Theatre’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature – review

Mary Shelley’s atmospheric gothic novel of Frankenstein has provoked a full arch of protean artistic imaginations in translating the story into the screen. Still, none of them is arguably more unforgettable and impressive than the production of National Theater, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature. It is as if the novel itself were played out by witchcraft of Art, conjuring up the spirits of the characters, possessing the souls of the performers and those of the spectators in the enchantment of the Sense and Reason in one fell swoop. 

Cumberbatch’s performance of the miserable Creature is so well studied and crafted that it is quite impossible to conceive: the crudely sawed up sutures without even a remote sense of estheticism, the awkward gaits of one huge mystical beast – perhaps wodewose? -, the muttering that sounds like the low guttural hissing, and the face that only inspires diabolic terror to the eye of the beholder. It is a plenary reincarnation of all things abominable to Taste and Reason universal in mankind from which it is eternally barred. If Dr. Frankenstein resurrected a corpse into life, it is Cumberbatch who resurrected it from the textual existence with gushing emotions and passionate actions that give to his Creature Human Sentiments and Sympathy even. 

Cumberbatch makes his Creature a creature of Pathos, a divine streak of humanity. It seems unpardonable and criminal to even feel toward such an abominable monster. The actor does it with the choreography of movements to express the changes in the moods and emotions. From the moment of its birth from death in the artificial placenta and to the return to its collapsed dreams and wishes, Cumberbatch does a superb job of expressing the tragic panorama. He delivers the Pathos of the Monster without the swashbuckling display of overt sentiments to render excessively contrived sympathy to his Creature, merely crying out, “I see inside, but I dare not go inside!” 

The power of reality in the setting of the stage gives the story of the play the verisimilitude. The specious scene in minimalist background conspicuous by the splendid display of the lights expresses the changes in the moods, emotions, and feelings of the characters. It also produces a maximum theatrical effect of resonance of the voices and illumination of the actions, holding the attention of the spectators without the infelicity of interruption and disinterest, making every scene wholly real and engaging.

This theatrical version of Shelley’s masterpiece is not a reactionary revision of the story. On the contrary, it is a manifestation of Shelley’s perspectives on her contemporary society, which is also contemporaneous with our own. This astonishing play makes the social and physiological elements realistic and enjoyable for the pure sake of exceptional art experience. It is a beautiful play inspired by a muse that would ascend the highest celestial stage with divine thespians to act and enchanted spectators to behold the swelling scenes. And yes, Shelley will be very content with this magnificently performed interpretation of her oeuvre from the heavenly balcony of immortal Theater of Arts by applauding the cast and the staff to the very echo.  


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Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

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