Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (3 stars)

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Powerful adaptation with disappointing delivery

In her foreword to the production, playwright Rona Munro ponders the problems of Frankenstein's ubiquity, asking what her adaptation might bring to a story that has been retold repeatedly. Deciding to focus on the character of the author, Munro places Mary Shelley inside the action, a doubting and chiding narrator who both teases and taunts her cast, expressing regret and ruthlessness as she drives the doctor and the monster to their doom.

Munro's script, especially in the first act, piles up the intensity, settling the foundations and themes for the epic confrontation between science and morality. The monster becomes a symbol of the excluded masses, the hungry and the poor, following violent impulses only when rejected by his creator: Frankenstein himself is variously an overbearing Faustus and a weak-willed victim, an aristocrat who assumes a power that he cannot control or justify. The ferment of the early 19th century – with social, economic and political revolutions changing the European landscape – is reflected in the intimate battle between the scientist and his experiment.

This dense and provocative script, rich in ideas and commenting wryly on the relationship between the plot and the process of writing, is supported by Becky Minto's scenography – a versatile set that serves as a laboratory, wilderness and family home – and a dynamic pace, but undermined by an ensemble cast who shout their way through the action. While their performances hint towards a self-consciously gestural and rhetorical melodramatic dramaturgy, the complex themes are rarely matched by deft characterisation.

The strength of the production comes from the script, which draws out the radical politics of the author and challenges other interpretations which emphasise spectacle or horror. Indeed, the show is at its weakest when it attempts a dramatic set-piece, and most powerful in its symbolic allusions to Enlightenment power plays. Thought-provoking but often over-wrought, this Frankenstein is flattened by the performances while raised by an energetic and intelligent script.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 30 Nov, and touring


Mary Shelley's masterpiece is adapted for the stage by Rona Munro, who places the young writer at the centre of the tale.