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The dangers of over-optimistic British adventurism

Wild Goose Theatre: Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, from February 1 to 5. Review by JON LEWIS

Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein is primarily a warning about challenging the order of the natural world by interfering catastrophically with the cycle of life and death.

In Billy Morton’s adaptation for Oxford-based Wild Goose Theatre, formerly Tomahawk, Frankenstein, which Morton also directs, also foregrounds the dangers of over-optimistic British adventurism.

Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station
Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station

The central character, Victor Frankenstein (Craig Finlay) may be Swiss, but the framing of the story comes from the heart of the British empire.

A ship’s captain, played by Morton, picks up a frozen and dying Frankenstein whilst icebound trying to find the North Pole. Frankenstein recognises that the captain is contaminated with a similar frenzy to his, and his subsequent narration of his hazardous experiments serves as a cautionary tale to the captain and the audience.

Morton is faithful to Shelley’s novel with its box within a box within a box structure. The primary frame is that of the British seafarers in the Arctic. As Frankenstein then weaves his story about the creation of his Monster (Edward Blagrove) out of dead body parts in Switzerland, so the sailors take the parts of Frankenstein’s family, friends, lecturers and judiciary.

Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station
Frankenstein at the Old Fire Station

A third frame opens up with Frankenstein’s retelling of the Monster’s story which re-examines some previous scenes from the Monster’s perspective. Blagrove creates a sympathetic creature out of the Monster, erudite after his exclusion from human life. Grace Olusola’s half-sister Elizabeth and Peter Todd’s collection of comic judges emerge strongly from the drama.

Morton blends everyday shipboard duties into the narrative of revenge, murder and execution so that they become strong visual metaphors. When the Frankenstein family servant Justine (Victoria Greenfield) is framed for the murder of William Frankenstein (Beth Burns), her hanging is enacted as a typical hauling of goods on board. It’s great theatre.

The production’s unique selling point is the vibrant backcloth of sea shanties that illuminate every scene.

The shanties with their lyrics of hauling goods and exploring distant lands identify with Frankenstein’s quest and are thrillingly realised.

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