The stage is nearly dark. A hand touches a skin, something that might be an amniotic sac. Light flashes, only for an instant like a lightning bolt. Drums pound and a human creature slowly crawls out of the sac.
The creature, a naked man, crawls onto the floor. He tries to get up, tries to stand, but he fails, falls back to the ground, again and again and again… And finally he succeeds and runs around in childlike joy.
Another blinding flash of light appears causing nearly perceptible pain to me. The naked man at the stage cries in agony and I myself want to scream: “STOP IT! Stop that pain! Stop that light, it is hurting me! It burns my eyes!”
A solitary man at the stage trying to do, what natural to us, his moaning voice, beating drums – they made me feel, what Victor Frankensteins creation (I don’t dare to call him “creature” or “it” anymore after this evening) must have felt at the very moment of his “birth”.
I’ve been in cinema again watching a theatralic play. It’s been “Frankenstein”, two of the most brilliant actors of our days in the lead roles: Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Sherlock meets Sherlock.
I actually wanted to see it twice and write then, because Cumberbatch and Miller were swapping their roles from performance to performance and while today Cumberbatch had been the Creation and Miller Frankenstein, next week I’ll see them in the opposite roles.
But I’m sitting in the train now, writing into my journal, so that not a tiny spark of my impressions might leave my mind before being written down.
Actually “Frankenstein” is the reason, why I’ve seen Ian McKellen as “King Lear”. I’ve learned about the airing of “Frankenstein” somewhen this summer and looking again for the date I discovered the airing of Lear. So one might say, that “Frankenstein” had been the plan and “King Lear” the “again”.
Getting older seems to shift the sense of culture. Maybe, that the fact of my son having “Acting” at school had woken my interest in theatre too. And there are the two Sherlocks, which drove me to watch “Frankenstein” too. Both Miller and Cumberbatch were brilliantly playing the world’s greatest detective. How would they behave on stage?
Thinking of Sherlock Holmes in the movies I had a gentleman in mind, being calm and the master of any situation. Having read the the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” I know, it’s different. Holmes is a driven character, an addict first of drugs then of solving riddles as a replacement of those drugs. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller showed that side of Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock” respectivly “Elementary”. They could not be less than brilliant in “Frankenstein” in my opinion and they did not disappoint me.
A very variable stage
As in “King Lear” the stage appeared nearly empty at the beginning. Different to the Lear performance the stage did not change every couple of minutes. It was built up step by step, one detail after the other added to it, until the location changed and the stage had to be “rebuilt”.
And it’s been built in a great way. A hut descended from the ceiling, a large study was lifted from underneath the stage, fire and fog came out of the ground… Even the hut had been “burned down” with a yellow and orange flicker and smoke and all that makes a fire.
Doors had again been in the background and at the sides for the actors the enter and leave. A wooden walkway had been laid out to show Lake Geneva, a waterlike flickering beside it. A white projection made an iceberg at the end, when Victor Frankenstein chased his creation to the north pole.
In short words: It was the best stage I’ve ever seen in theatre. I have to admit, that I haven’t seen that much stages, but with the opera airings from the New York Met it have been a few.
And then there was the acting
I guess, most people know Frankenstein from the old horror movies. Boris Karloff, remember? I’ve never seen them, but I’ve seen the Kenneth Brannagh movie acting Robert de Niro as Frankensteins creation. So I had a guess, that it would not be a horror play. And it wasn’t.
Maybe, that this theatralic version puts even more of the story onto the stage than Brannagh managed to show in his movie, though the play didn’t start with Frankenstein but with his creation, its birth, its education, how it learned not just to read and think but also hate and treachery.
Benedict Cumberbatch played furiously from the very beginning. His twitching and shrugging after the birth, his struggling to stand up, to speak, his body language and mimic cannot be called else than brilliant. As much as I love to see him in movies I daresay he has been born for the stage. His range of emotions in the play ranging from fear to disbelief, anger, hate, sadness is nothing less than marvelous.
Jonny Lee Miller on the other side had been a mad scientist as a mad scientist has to be. A driven maniac, asking what he could do, what humankind could be able to do, but forgetting to ask, if those things should be done and afterwards, seeing the consequences of his actions, regreting everything, trying to mend his faults by attempting to kill the life, he had created. Even though that part of the story had been let out of the play Miller made the audience at least guess his motives – the loss of his beloved mother, which drove the wish into him to be the victor over death. Does, by the way, anybody else see Frankensteins name in my last sentence?
When I saw Brannagh’s movie that long time ago, I saw no monster, as it was described so often. I saw a man (artificial, I admit), who wanted nothing more than to live and to be accepted. But the brilliance of this theatralic performance showed a lot more.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller teached a brilliant lesson about cause and effect. Whatever we do will have consequences. You would not (I hope for the sake of your very soul) set a child into this world and then abandon it. And you should not (if you were able to) create life and then abandon your creation.
When Frankenstein beheld his own creation, he was disgusted and even fearful. So the creation had to live on his own, having no father and mother, being solitary. He didn’t know the concept of being solitary at this point of the story but the man learned quickly and the first things he learned had been, that he was unwanted and hated, because he was different. And yet he actually had been a raw diamond.
Being unwanted, hated and hunted the man developed his own hate. He obviously loved the blind, old man, who educated him. But when the old man’s son and the daughter in law hunted the creation out of their hut, not listening to the old man, the creation grew vengeful and killed all three of them by burning down the hut. As Frankenstein broke his word to make a bride for his creation, as Frankenstein killed that bride, the creation’s vengeful spirit grew and resulted in the death of Frankenstein’s newly wed wife.
No Frankenstein movie had ever such a great message as this play:
- He, who is different, is not worth less and he is not worth to be hated. So love the different as you love the equal!
- Hate will always bear hate. So if you don’t want to be hated, you should not meet other people with hate!
- Always think before acting. As interesting it is, what you might do, ask yourself, if you should do it! Your actions will have consequences for yourself and for others.
I wish, that certain people would have seen that play. But I don’t want to become political at this moment.
But there was one thing, that seemed to be no brilliant idea: the subtitles. The subtitles were distracting and absolutly unnecessary, because they were in English (as the play) and all the actors spoke very clearly. There is no use in English subtitles, if the spoken language is English too. But that little flaw doesn’t count.