Finding a new approach to classic stories has always been an arduous task for most modern storytellers. Because of this a great many writers may take on the challenge of telling what’s known as a parallel story. A chance to explore events related to a famous work that may have only merited the barest of mentions in the original text.
This type of story-telling can be a little more common in film and literature. For example, the recent Star Wars: Rogue One being used to set up all the events in A New Hope; or the books of Gregory Maguire and the numerous adventures of smaller characters in the world of the Wizard of Oz.
But in theatre this approach still seems to be a rarity. Honestly, the only one that comes to mind is Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
As such, the most recent production from Second Self seems to give us a chance to see the famous Mary Shelly novel in a new light. A chance to see, as the title so humbly states: The Men Who Made Frankenstein.
Kicking off in the icy wastelands of Greenland, a dulcet-toned voiceover announces the discovery of something strange: a misshapen being of unknown origin.
As the voiceover periodically informs us of the state of the investigation into the creature’s creation, we flashback to witness four individuals trapped in a sort of limbo.
The lustful Edward (Calvin Crawley); the pious Rupert (Marcus Frewin-Ridley); the fearful Modesty (Katie Clement); and the questioning Margaret (Erin Wilson). Together they will eventually become an essential part of the infamous beast known as Frankenstein’s Monster.
From the opening moments writer-director Simon Moore makes it clear that his work will be vastly different to the traditional interpretations of Frankenstein. While past readings have tried to focus on the realism of the story, Moore pretty much throws that out the window and approaches the world from a far more philosophical and abstract angle. While that lack of simplicity is refreshing, it does also lead to a script that occasionally becomes bogged down in scholarly musings and rants.
That said, the simplicity of the set shines through. Essentially set in a prison, the four leads must emote and pontificate from the insides of nothing but white gaffer tape to represent their imprisonment. A difficult task for most, but one which all four rise to magnificently.
Indeed most of the quartet’s performances illustrate quite well as to how different individuals react to their impending demise (even though technically they’re already dead!) The unfriendly Edward chooses to satisfy his sexual appetite; his scenes bringing the bulk of the laughs with Crawley’s excellent comic timing used to great effect.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Ridley’s Rupert, who remains mostly silent while holding tight to his faith. With almost zero dialogue, it’s difficult for Ridley to standout among the other, much louder voices; but he does well with what little he’s been given.
The two women also end up representing opposing reactions, with Clement’s socialite giving into the domination of fear; while Wilson’s Margaret preferring a more bravely inquisitive approach. In fact it’s Clement that ends up delivering the most striking performance. Her terror-embedded eyes dominating the room as she wakes in her prison; which later give way to more heartfelt words as she slowly approaches death’s embrace.
But of all the religious and sociological aspects the play touches upon, the one that stands out most (at least to this theatre-goer) was that of consent. Never before has an adaptation or alternative-telling of Frankenstein chosen to explore the very people whose bodies were defiled for a sick man’s fantasy. And in the shadow of the numerous assault allegations against Hollywood’s most powerful, isn’t hearing the voices of such victims an apt approach?
While occasionally difficult to follow due to its metaphysical aspects, The Men Who Made Frankenstein is nonetheless a brave (and frightening) story, never afraid to dive into the more emotional and challenging themes that run through our 21st century society.
The Men Who Made Frankenstein was performed as part of the London Horror Festival 2017.
Produced by Second Self
Written and directed by Simon Christopher
Assistant Director – Lorenzo Peter Mason
Costume and Production Designer – Emma Wilson
Music Production – Gareth Rhys Prior
Technical Manager – Sam Gilham
Modesty – Katie Clement
Edward – Calvin Crawley
Rupert – Marcus Frewin-Ridley
Frankenstein – Carl Thompson
Margaret – Erin Wilson
Researcher (voiceover) – Nicole van Niekerk
Photo Credits: Facebook,