As Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is intimately concerned with tale-telling, it lends itself especially well to an oral adaptation. Produced by Castle Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre, Sophie Wright’s illustrated radio-play adaptation of Shelley’s novel transforms the epistolary element into an audial one while staying remarkably close to the source material. The condensed plot manages to fit into the time frame without feeling too rushed or superficial.
This audial element is foregrounded as Dr Frankenstein records his narrative through a tape recorder, rather than a written account. The play transitions between scenes through sharp cuts paired with visual static and rewinding audio effects, giving it a found footage feel. Occasionally lines are purposefully cut off or scenes are ended sharply, creating fantastically manic successions of scenes while also occasionally ending moments at a climax, creating momentary cliff-hangers. Yet, it must be said that the tape recorder feels joltingly out-of-place in Shelley’s 18th century setting for the novel. There are also a few scenes where the tape recorder does not seem to be present. However, considering this is a tale where an electrically-animated creature learns English through reading Paradise Lost, a suspension of disbelief is a given by this point.
The vocal performances were generally convincing and the performances of Ben Willows (Dr Frankenstein) and Naomi Cook (Elizabeth) were particularly well-done. Willow’s Frankenstein is best in moments of insanity, as he pants, raves, stutters, and sniffs as the character loses control. While not as compelling in moments of calm, Willows’ Frankenstein effectively captures the ravings of delirium. Naomi Cook’s Elizabeth serves as a great counterpoint – a sane and concerned portrayal with great vocal control in contrast to Frankenstein’s ravings and mutterings, fitting the character in a believable manner. With the monster, played by Tom Cain, stuttering is used to capture the difficulties of the monster’s language development in a convincing way. However, Cain’s performance would have been improved through intensifying the moments of rage, as the performance does not always capture emotional extremes.
The vocal performances are best in moments of panic and horror but are less effective in lighter moments. The pacing of banter and friendly chemistry does not always translate well to the audio form, occasionally feeling a bit false. However, this is likely partially due to the limitation of recording in different locations (made necessary currently), making it difficult for the actors to bounce off each other’s lines naturally.
Throughout the play, ambient sounds and effects bolster the performance and adds a tangible atmosphere to many scenes. In the laboratory we hear the bubbling of unseen liquids, the hum of electricity, and is that… the beating of a heart? The outdoor sequences are just as effective, with elemental winds buffeting around you. Narrative is also occasionally told only through sound – one sequence of straining (leather?) straps, panning footsteps, and audible groans is one of the best in the production. The music effectively builds in moments of panic, and is especially effective when the title card hits, giving an idea of the tone of what is to follow. A minor issue, however, is the credit music. While I love the track, it is a bit too upbeat considering the ending – a longer moment of lull before the credits or a different track to begin with would have allowed some time to digest.
Finally, the illustrations deserve commendation. Three different illustrators (Adeline Zhao, Anna Kuptsova, and Jasmine Cash) each create the images for each frame narrative in the tale, helping us distinguish the differences in narrative perspectives. The illustrations of the framing narrative are suitably gothic in look, with shadowy figures and jagged ice caps. Most of the play, Dr Frankenstein’s narrative, is illustrated in a simpler, more cartoonish style. The number of illustrations in this section is mind-boggling, as the production’s illustrations effectively follow the action of the tale. However, the illustrations of this section do not always fit the grotesque tone of the story. One frame had an amusing portrait of Frankenstein with monocle and cane in the background, which slightly took away from the serious tone of the plot. The illustrations during the monster’s narrative are varied and inventive, mixing different perspectives and styles effectively creating a collage of the monster’s experiences. Altogether, the illustrations create a fantastic backdrop to the audio.
Overall, the play effectively adapts its source into an audial medium. It is incredible that it was produced and formed remotely and thus deserves praise for the effort taken to produce the completed product. If you are a fan of the novel, or have a free evening, I would recommend this production.
Performances are at 7pm on the 5th, 12th, and 19th of February and can be purchased on the DST website.
Image: Illustrated by Adeline Zhao