As part of the Great British Theatre Series on Amazon Prime Video, the National Theatre has added treasures from their archives for audiences to revisit, including Frankenstein (2011), starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Danny Boyle’s production was renowned for the duo alternating roles of the creature and Victor Frankenstein for every performance, a new feat for the play based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic.
Despite the two-handed nature of the show, the main focus of the narrative (unlike the book) is Frankenstein’s creature. As the play opens, Cumberbatch’s grotesque creature is birthed from the womb and writhes and twitches across the stage. With his impressive height and animalistic movements, Cumberbatch emulates a newborn foul finding its feet: the awkward and painful experience captured perfectly. Full credit is due to Cumberbatch, whose visceral, almost unwatchable depiction of the creature demonstrates his extensive talent. He offers new, childish depth to the savage creature who ultimately longs for the thing he can’t have, companionship. As the character evolves, learning language from the blind exiled politician, Cumberbatch offers grand, almost Shakespearean tones to the creature as he quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost.
His counterpart, the Elementary star Johnny Lee Miller, embodies the creator as a man at war with himself. Tormented by his guilt, Victor grows in intensity, delving further into the madness he is trying to control as his creature claims more victims. Together, Miller and Cumberbatch offer contrasting journeys of nuanced beings tormented by their actions without being able to change their destructive ways.
In the climactic moment, the audience is silent as the creature rapes Victor’s bride (played effortlessly by Naomi Harris) before murdering her. This seals their fate, neither one will escape the other as the interchangeable men are forever bound together through this heinous crime. Despite the dark subject matter, the stage is often flooded with light due to the candle-filled canopy overhanging the auditorium. The intense flashes of light are utilised to capture the excitement and discovery in the creature’s birth and Victor’s subsequent experiments.
The production lends itself to the small screen as much as the grand scale of the theatre, with the close ups of the actors showcasing every nuance that might only be observed by the first few rows in a theatre audience. It’s arguably more terrifying to watch Cumberbatch’s creature up close and notice each intricate stitch painted across the entire length of his body.
It’s both a masterpiece in the theatre and at home. It’s a rare experience of witnessing two lead actors knowing a play so intricately that their characters are both completely distinguishable whilst simultaneously being villainous mirror images of the other.
Watch the full version of Frankenstein as part of the Great British Theatre series on Amazon Prime Video.
Words by Jess Bacon.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.