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Fractal Theatre reanimates the Gothic horror in a new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, playing at Brisbane’s beloved Arts Theatre.

Inside the theatre, Chancie Jessop’s design is immediately striking, transformed by Geoff Squires’ lighting from arctic wilderness to velvet-draped living room, from graveyard to dense forest. The repeated motif of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is a fitting tip of the hat to Frankenstein as an early — if not the first — science fiction novel.

Brenna Lee-Cooney directs a strong cast in a production that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the English Gothic novel, in all its ruined finery. Coached in movement by Brian Lucas, the cast at once embodies the grotesque and the burlesque. Characters tiptoe, jerk and twitch across the stage as if we are really inside a life-size puppet theatre. The result is a mood as funny as it is unsettling. (It occurs to me that BAT would make a wonderful variety cabaret venue.)

Frankenstein

Andrew Lowe takes the lead as Victor Frankenstein, a man troubled by his conscience — and its literal manifestation in his monster (Cameron Hurry). Hurry is superb as the reanimated creature — vulnerable, frightening, alluring, and very human. Thomas Yaxley makes a wonderful comic sidekick of Victor’s friend Clerval. Likewise, Zoe de Plevitz stands out as Victor’s betrothed, the long-suffering Elizabeth. It’s interesting to see Eugene Gilfedder take a back seat, supporting this cast of up-and-coming young things as various paternal archetypes.

Frankenstein skids along at a fast pace, but Lee-Cooney’s adaptation is too loyal to the source text. At two and a half hours, Fractal’s Frankenstein gets bogged down in the dense language of the novel (published in 1818). With the exception of our time with the creature, there are few moments of reflection; to pack the story in, every spare second is crammed with dialogue or narration. One can’t help but feel that a freer approach might have allowed more breathing space, and more time for design and movement to resonate with the audience.

I rather like seeing professional productions play in the low-tech, cosy Arts Theatre. Minor technical issues — such as Eugene Gilfedder’s atmospheric compositions competing with the actors’ un-miked voices — soon even out as we settle into the play. While overlong, Frankenstein delights with its interpretation of the Gothic as spooky melodrama.

 

Frankenstein plays at Brisbane Arts Theatre until 18 May, 2013, with two midnight performances on 4 and 11 May.

P.S. In the first half, my biro rolled away, never to return. However, broggling about under the seat in front in the interval, we did find two different pens in working order. The Theatre is a generous mistress.