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Frankenstein - Derby Theatre Review

Reviewed by Bethany Hill
Disclaimer: tickets were gifted in return for an honest review


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the world’s most infamous gothic tales. It explores the ethics of science, the terrifying lengths that humans will go to for fame and success, and the treatment of ‘the other’ in society. In Sean Aydon’s recent adaption, this famous tale is given a more modernised twist with a setting in 1943 World War Two; a time with its own horrors and prejudices. Whilst the original story may have been written in 1818, the themes and philosophical questions it explores transcend time and remain incredibly relevant today.

Photo by Robling Photography 

It is very clear from the off that this is not quite the story that you may remember from your GCSE English class or many a film adaptation of the original novel. The show begins with an eerily silent, dimly lit cabin in which a woman waits in fear, gun in hand. From that instant, the audience is on edge and awaiting jumps and frights that do not disappoint. We are then introduced to Victoria Frankenstein, who begs the lady (or captain as she is now known) for shelter as she hunts something in the mountains. After some tense dialogue, Victoria begins to tell the story of her creation of life and the scientific experiment that went truly wrongly. This storytelling theatrical device lends itself well to the original source material which is told in letters.

Through the rest of Act 1, we see Victoria Frankenstein’s experimentation and build up to the final reveal of her creature which comes to life during one stormy night, much like many of the adaptations we have seen before. Victoria’s motives are explored in detail in this act; interestingly, her character is given much more motive for wanting to revive life as we learn about the death of her mother. Her character, in my opinion, feels much more humane than the original book’s doctor. We see less mad scientist fuelled by dreams of more success, and more pained woman determined to right the wrongs she has experienced. Eleanor Mcloughlin’s performance throughout this is nuanced and clever as is that of the supporting cast, particularly that of her assistant Francine played in a heart-warming manner by Annette Hannah. At the closing of Act One, we are finally introduced to ‘the creature’ for the first time. Cameron Robertson displays here some absolutely outstanding physical theatre and perfectly encapsulates the pain experienced by the being upon his first awakening. Throughout Act One, we see illusions to the new World War Two context as the concept of ‘the other’ and ‘the perfect human’ are hinted at. These are explored at length in Act Two.

Through Act Two, we see the consequences of the doctor’s creation and the intense moral debates that follow. An official of the nazi party is introduced and we are reminded of the critical dangers of creating near-human life in a time of war. The doctor is instructed to create more synthetic life to use in upcoming war whilst already existing humans are being treated as less than human themselves. Aydon explores the questions of science - of how far is too far and of whose fault it is when works of science are used for evil? The show builds to a violent and impactful crescendo with an ending providing shock after shock right until the curtain call.

I feel that the very heart of this show’s message can be summed up in some key dialogue.

Doctor: You’re a monster. 
Creature: Then what are you?

The concept of blame and being at fault is carefully unpicked without giving an answer to the audience. The creature behaves violently and angrily because that is the way he is treated by society. The character Francine is outcast just as the monster is and therefore we are able to hear more of his feelings of ostracism through her dialogue. The creature himself longs to not be human because of the horrid nature of humanity he experiences. Victoria refuses at times to take blame for any of the consequences of her science but is reminded of the horrors it can cause when in the wrong hands. Watching these debates play out on stage is fascinating and I found myself continuing this debate with friends after the play’s ending. We are left questioning what or who the true horror of the play is; who is or indeed are the monsters of this play?

Photo by Robling Photography 

Being a huge fan of Shelley’s original work, I found the changes to the storyline incredibly interesting. The doctor, I feel, appears less crazed and more caring. We do get a moment where she lets her excitement run away with her and she forgets about the danger she is putting others in, however this is quickly rectified by a conversation with Francine within the same scene. This perhaps meant that her moment of madness was over too quickly for her redemption to have as big of an impact as it could do. Some of the events of the story were narrated rather than shown (e.g. the murder of Victoria’s sister) which did feel at times somewhat rushed, however it does suggest that perhaps the worst horrors we can experience are horrors of the mind and of the imagination rather than what is put in front of us.

In terms of set, I found the use of staging clever and whilst minimal, very effective. Most of the play is set in a rather clinical laboratory which means that our focus is on the incredibly clever acting and storytelling taking place. The set change to the cabin and the show’s opening and closing is again simple yet effective and the use of lighting, in particular the lack of bright lighting, and sound effects led to a tense, spooky atmosphere that supported the storytelling throughout.

The show has a small cast and it is certain that every performance was truly fantastic. Watching the mannerisms of the creature develop through the play’s three year time span was fascinated and I was absolutely glued to Robertson’s performance whenever he was on stage. The entire cast did such a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere whilst also presenting philosophical debates in such an interesting way.

Adapted and directed by Sean Aydon, Frankenstein presents to us a more modernised exploration of Shelley’s deep, philosophical questions. The production makes the story incredibly relevant to today whilst also providing nail-biting, spine-tingling theatre. I throughly enjoyed my viewing and would highly recommend grabbing a ticket, whether a fan of the original like me or someone ready to experience this story for the first time.

Frankenstein plays at Derby Theatre until Saturday 23rd September before continuing on a tour of the UK. Tickets are available for Derby Theatre from frankenstein-2/. Find future tour dates at

Photo by Robling Photography

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