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Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster - Conrad Murray Interview

Battersea Arts Centre and the BAC Beatbox Academy bring their hit show, 'Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster' to Warwick Arts Centre from Wednesday 25th to Friday 27th May. 

Photo by Joyce Nicholls

This gripping one-of-a-kind theatre hybrid sees six young performers with six microphones take apart the original Mary Shelley story and reimagine a world of modern monsters - from our over-stimulated digital age to the pressures to conform - while taking musical inspirations from Pachelbel to The Prodigy.

I spoke to co-creator and co-director Conrad Murray all about the production.

BTC - Why Frankenstein and how did you go about selecting that story?

Conrad: We selected that story because there seemed to be a lot of scope to play around with the ideas in the novel. We also researched context, and the fact that it was written 200 years ago by a teenage Mary Shelly at a time when women didn't have the vote, seemed rebellious. 

BTC - Why do you think the Frankenstein story remains ever popular?

Conrad:  It remains popular because there are a lot of ideas and questions within the book, which aren’t fully answered. It's all there for us to play with: what’s the role that science plays in our lives? Is playing with technology in some way dangerous to humanity? We have always asked ourselves these questions. We use social media in our production, but the fork was once new technology. Science, technology and art are part of our being. I think these questions will forever resonate. Plus, maybe we recognise the monster within ourselves. It's a role we can be pushed into playing. We can also create monsters.

BTC - How do you approach the text and turning it into a beatbox spectacle?

Conrad: Our journey began with a research period- where we were just collecting ideas and doing no writing or creating. We read the book, and then looked at movies and songs, and the way that Frankenstein has been depicted through the ages. It is worthwhile noting that Mary Shelly was a scandalous, rebellious figure. Somehow, over time, the story of Frankenstein has been dominated by privileged white men.  It has been removed from the source and energy of how it was created. We have aimed to change that- we are either young, black, mixed, working class, female, all of the above, and feel that we are closer to the source material than ever before. 

After we have themes, words, sounds, narrative, we start to patch things together. There is a word in hip hop for this- sampling- and flip these amazing idea so that they feel fresh andwork today. 

BTC - Where did your journey with beatboxing and theatre begin?

Conrad: To begin with, my social worker helped to advise and get me onto some drama courses and schemes. I was also into music and loved rapping and hip hop culture. 

I started the BAC Beatbox Academy in 2008 with Battersea Arts Centre, as I lived locally and grew up on an estate and there was nowhere to go to beatbox, rap or express ourselves using a contemporary creative lexicon.

I dreamed of a place where people would be freestyling, writing, rapping, and fusing it together with theatre.  The BAC Beatbox Academy became that place. 

It helped me to develop as a practitioner and have my own ideas about creating a space to create from a hip hop perspective. I was previously getting into trouble and had been arrested a few times, but now I'm a director, leader and practitioner, and the academy is a tool to help people go on their own creative journeys. 

I’m so proud of the BAC Beatbox Academy members - in the current Frankenstein cast, Aminita was recently in the West End and leads her own sessions, Kate Donnachie recently won a pantomime award (she was a beatboxing genie), Wiz-rd is now at Uni, and ABH is the UK Beatbox Champion. Others have gone on to become drama teachers and music producers and they still keep in touch.

Photo by Joyce Nicholls

BTC - What was the rehearsal process like for the production?

Conrad: Rehearsals are very intense, and you have to build up a lot of stamina. We take this as seriously as any other artform, Ballet, Opera, so the training is immense. We want you to walk away thinking; How can a human do that?, so our reach has to outdo our grasp.

We are not only practising our ideas for the show, but pushing the human voice and the body every day. Can we sing this, whilst beatboxing, plus do this movement? We might rehearse this for 5 hours straight. It's intense. 

BTC - What have been the biggest challenges you've faced with the production?

Conrad: The biggest challenges have been trying to describe the show and the form. It is our own form, so it doesn’t easily fit under a ready made remit. More traditional reviewers and writers have sometimes been offended that we dare take on a canonised book and remix it so much.

People have shuddered at the idea of hip hop theatre in their venues. ‘Beatbox! In our beloved theatre! What happened to good old Ibsen every season?’.  It can also be difficult to get the right performers, as we have a quite distinct style and set of skills that are required.

Although this challenge is a good one, and we are always looking to use the show as a platform to develop more performers, and audiences. 

BTC - What do you want an audience member to take away from the piece?

Conrad: We want the audience to feel inspired, and invigorated. To experience not only the story of persecution and the questioning of technology over our lives, but also by the young people on stage, showing the most amazing vocal skills they will have ever witnessed. Hopefully, the audience leave also wanting to either beatbox or be creative. 

BTC - If you could perform another piece of classic literature in this style which would you choose?

Conrad: We have already started to create ideas around Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, and although it’s not classic literature, our next show is based on the classic story The Pied Piper. 

BTC - Why should an audience member come and see Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster?

Conrad: Audiences should come and be wowed. They should feel confident about the future of young people when given a space to create. This is the future of theatre so they really don’t want to miss out. Plus we teach them to beatbox. 

Another thing to mention is the curtain-raisers. We do outreach and jamming with local artists, groups and students, and share our practice to help them to create short pieces. We share our platform, and it gets local people to perform on prestigious stages. You don’t want to miss local talent doing their thing!

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster is at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, from Wednesday 25 to Friday 27 May 2022. For tickets and more information, see:

Photo by Joyce Nicholls

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