Considering the dissenting reviews that had welcomed the premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein in 2016, criticising its narrative format, I was curious to discover the production myself. Indeed, Scarlett’s portrayal of the classic was by no means exemplary, nonetheless it was intensely charming.
Despite Liam Scarlett’s weight of experience – with the likes of Swan Lake, Carmen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream already under his belt – at major ballet companies across the world, his fascination with the life of Mary Shelley seems to have overshadowed the gothic values of the account. Scarlett’s focus moves away from the traditional horror and moulds a story of empathy and romance – paying attention to the nuances within Shelley’s original novel. Whilst this is an intelligent and compelling rendition, it does leave you with the phrase: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’!
Frankenstein, Federico Bonelli as Victor and Steven McRae as The Creature. ©ROH 2016, Photographed by Bill Cooper
In the first cast, Federico Bonelli returned to the role of Victor Frankenstein whole-heartedly. Both his acting and execution of meticulous balletic poses was flawless. His feats of perfection were matched by none other than Laura Morera – a worthy winner of the 2016 Critic’s Circle National Dance Award. The pair achieved, and maintained, an absorbing chemistry throughout the performance, as each embrace they shared, radiates trust and adoration. In the case of this partnership, Scarlett’s restructuring of the emotive motifs found within the gothic Frankenstein is understandable, as the lead couple’s ability to enact a believable romance is indisputable.
Frankenstein, Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein, Laura Morera as Elizabeth Lavenza. ©ROH 2016, Photographed by Bill Cooper
This swell of attention regarding the familial strand of the tale makes the catastrophic events of Acts II and III all the more distressing. The Second Act takes the audience to the Creature’s discovery of how he came to be and his decision to enact revenge on Victor and his family. This turbulent series of events reaches a climax on William Frankenstein’s (Victor Frankenstein’s younger brother) birthday. A scene brimming with an abundance of youth, colour and joie de vivre is juxtaposed by the death of the young birthday boy and the wrongful hanging of his innocent nanny. Before breaking for a much-needed interval, the audience is left with the image of a hanged body, swinging in the breeze – possibly Scarlett’s attempt at refocusing the storyline towards the gothic.
The last Act sees Wei Wang astound the audience with his haunting masterfully performed solo performances, however the power of these moments were somewhat weakened, by the countless ensemble pieces that frequent towards the end. As we reach the final scene, Scarlett’s ambition to embark upon a journey of human emotion reaches a climax, as romantic heights are counterbalanced with scenes of utter distress. Through a series of solo, duet and trio performances, a whirlwind of terror and rage ensues between Victor, the Creature and Elizabeth. This turbulence concludes with Viktor watching as his creation murders the woman he loves, leaving the audience wondering what responsibility Frankenstein held in the countless deaths of those he cared for. This guilt visually consumes Victor Frankenstein, his own ambition and curiosity having led to this destruction. Finally, unable to face no more, our lead lifts a gun to his chest. Victor crashes to the floor, his body heavy from the weight of the grief that haunted him. The Creature, left to close the performance, stands alone.
Frankenstein, Steven McRae as The Creature. ©ROH 2016, Photographed by Bill Cooper
This tumultuous finale is aided by Lowell Liberman’s atmospheric and ominous score, which throughout marks periods of joy and depression through its suggestive phrasing. Furthermore, Finn Ross’ use of electricity, to demonstrate scientific breakthroughs, is equally telling and mirrored by the contrasting set designs that take you from safe domesticity to the battlefield of the wilderness.
Whilst the narrative direction may be disputed, the casting, orchestra and the performers themselves delivered a night of supreme excellence. If you are hoping to witness a traditional rendition of the gothic Frankenstein, then this is not the production for you, but if you are looser regarding the classic plot, this will enchant you.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
March 5 - 23
The Royal Opera House
Bow Street, London WC2E 9DD
Tickets from £5