Anything that involves Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, and Danny Boyle at the National Theatre is going to be exceptional and Frankenstein was no disappointment. We watched the version where Miller plays the monster, as that would be my preferred casting. We actually intended to watch both versions (the main actors switched parts each night) but managed to get our dates crossed over and missed it, which was a shame. Having seen the show, though, the level of physicality involved means I'm not surprised they needed to switch things around routinely or else end up spent!
I've never actually seen or read the original story, so I was really surprised to find out that the play is actually quite faithful. The main difference is that we're seeing the story from the monster's perspective, rather than Victor's, but that feels a lot more interesting to me. Cutting directly to the creation of the monster, though, did leave me a little bewildered for the first 10-20 minutes. At no point was I unclear of what was going on, but it felt like a seriously art-house performance for quite a while. In hindsight, that decision forces the audience to go on a similar journey to that which the monster itself is going on, one of discovery and revelations, which works really well. At the time, though, it was quite confusing.
Aside from that, though, I thought the play was fantastic. Its narrative arcs are very neatly paced, set and costume design were incredible, and of course the main actors were exceptional. Miller's monster had strong elements of autism about him which left me a little uncomfortable at times but ultimately, I feel, worked very well; I hear Cumberbatch plays him more infant-like, which would have been an interesting take. Of course for the version we saw he played the doctor, a role he inhabited with extreme ease, as it's practically a typecasting for him at this point. Still, both actors did their corresponding rise from and fall to states of madness well. It was a pleasure to see Karl Johnson (De Lacy) again as well and I felt he really helped sell the initial friendship and ultimate betrayal that the monster befalls, which is so important for setting up what's to come; Naomie Harris as Victor's fiancee, Elizabeth, was also brilliant. I was less impressed by the young actor who played William Frankenstein (the murdered brother), but it hardly mattered.
Overall, then, it was an incredible play to watch and a fantastic evening. The fact I was more than happy to sit through it a second time around is testament enough to how much I enjoyed it and it's a great shame we missed it in the end. The story has some solid moral and philosophical musings behind it, far more than I'd ever realised. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending; it's a little too surreal and bizarre by that stage, but it makes its point well enough. That these two utterly incredible and utterly despicable men are locked in a kind of never-ending game of cat and mouse is a fitting conclusion based on the tale's themes, but it is a bit abstract when you take a step back for a second. Then again, this is a story about man-made men and monsters, so maybe abstract is okay 😉