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Criterion, Earlsdon, review: Frankenstein

Frankenstein, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until November 6.

By Chris Arnot

Boris was billed to appear on something called the Horror Channel.

Boris Karloff, that is – the man who, according to my morning newspaper, “defined forever the way that Frankenstein’s monster looks and acts in the popular imagination”.

Karloff’s version was first screened in 1931. Fifty years later Victor Gialanella brought the monstrous creation to the Broadway stage with an adaptation far closer to Mary Shelley’s original novel.

And that’s the version that opened at the Criterion on what might be termed “Hallow’eve”: the night before Hallowe’en.

Dr Victor Frankenstein is played by Kate Ray. Well, this is the 21 st century and women take on parts written for men. With aplomb in some cases, and this is one of them. Despite her lack of physical stature, Ms Ray projects a seemingly fearless authority. On stage, that is. Personally I found her voice sometimes difficult to discern while conveyed through a sound system in those, thankfully, brief moments when the curtains were closed.

The “Creature” she creates is played by Lukasz Nowacki with an all too literally towering performance. Having been brought back to life, he lumbers around the stage with death in his fearful grip.

His is a life without a soul. He has feelings seemingly bursting from his shaved and scarred head but no adequate way of expressing them.

His creation had been a particularly memorable scene, under Steve Brown’s direction. First a body dangling like a corpse beneath gallows, then fierce twitches after the application of electricity. Not quite enough, however. The irony is that Dr Frankenstein had briefly left the laboratory when the corpse regained consciousness through a fearful thunder storm. Lightning rather than enlightenment proved the tipping point between death and life in this case.

Death is strewn around the stage as events unfold. Eventually the would-be creator of life from death is added to the body count.

Yes, Dr Frankenstein is killed. On his wedding day, what’s more. His would-be wife and her father are victims too. Here comes not the bride.

Moral: do not try to create new life without soul or the means to relate to other living beings. Mary Shelley’s fearsome creation was dreamed up just over 200 years ago. But here is vivid proof that her work still has resonance today.

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