24th April 2012
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A fortnight ago I was lucky enough to see both versions of Frankenstein as well as the behind-the-scenes material; here’s a little bit of what I discovered. With the exception of my own opinions of the performance everything here is paraphrased from the bts material. Needless to say there’s a lot of spoilers ahead.
To address the most obvious question; I’m training to be a theatre director and went for research purposes. I spent seven hours in the company of the play, first watching BC as Victor Frankenstein before viewing the behind-the-scenes stuff, and ending my day with BC as The Creature.
The Rehearsal Process
- The rehearsal period was about two months in duration, beginning with a couple weeks where it was just BC and JLM working alone with Danny Boyle (director), Toby Sedgwick (movement director), and Nick Dear (playwrite).
- In the earliest stages there was discussion about The Creature having an erect phallus during the scene with the prostitute. It didn’t detail when this idea was dropped, but one presumes it was around the time someone pointed out they were going to be naked and so the logistics didn’t make sense.
- Danny Boyle left BC and JLM to do the majority of their blocking themselves.
- As part of their process for developing an understanding of The Creature, BC and JLM visited two schools for autistic children and worked with a speech therapist.
- For his understanding of Victor Frankenstein, BC attended an autopsy - JLM didn’t join them for this; originally it was going to merely be a dissection but BC pushed for it to be an autopsy.
- Further inspiration for the movement of The Creature was taken from JLM’s then two-year-old son; BC also looked into stroke victims and victims of ‘severe injury’.
- The three pictures below were taken during rehearsals; The Creature with William Frankenstein (thanks to completelycumberbatched, who found it); I’m not certain on the second but I think it’s The Creature and his wife; and The Creature in the Incubator (without the latex covering);
- The National Theatre is actually made up of three separate theatres in one space; somewhat wonderfully (based on their recent win) Frankenstein was staged in the Olivier Theatre.
- The Olivier makes use of a Drum Revolve, a 15-metre-across, 50-foot-deep revolving circular segment of the stage. Not only does the drum rotate, but in conceals two lifts (elevators) which can be raised and lowered 8m below the stage level, allowing for a unique scenery change in which the drum resembles a corkscrew as one elevator is raised or lowed while the other remains static. The drum presents an intriguing challenge for the actor and was employed to full effect in Frankenstein.
- There’s a reason the lighting won the Olivier – it was utterly spectacular, which isn’t hard to understand when you realised they employed 3,500 light bulbs in the ‘chandelier’
- The music was created exclusively for the show by an incredible outfit called Underworld. You can listen to, and buy, it here. (Don’t rip it; this is buying it directly from the artists) I strongly suggest you do as it’s absolutely magnificent and I’ve been constantly using it to relive the performance.
- Two full 360 degrees rotations of the drum took place to a soundscape as the audience entered. During this time (fifteen minutes) the actor playing The Creature was inside the Incubator – aka that spherical thing you see BC breaking out of in the second trailer.
- A large bell, an antique dating back to Elizabethan times, rang to signal the start, middle, and end of the performance. (There was no interval; it was rung about half-way through the running time)
- Three boys portrayed William on alternate nights; the one who didn’t play the part in the NTL shows is still present, as William’s friend.
- Photos: the stage post-performance (note the circular indent - that’s the drum); two photos of The Creature inside the incubator during the pre-set.
Unless specifically stated this relates to the portrayal of The Creature, as that was my prime focus of study.
- BC and JLM drew on different influences for The Creature and it really shows. Neither is better than the other (so no JLM bashing, please); merely different.
- A really interesting thing they did was to reverse the angle of the blocking - JLM’s creature went right where in the same scene BC’s creature went left, etc.
- In terms of the birth scene (aka the first 3 scenes, up until Victor’s first exit), the blocking is wildly altered, adapted to each individual’s abilities and decisions. JLM sucks his toes, employs shoulder stands, and is generally much more vocal; while BC flips over in half-backflips, inspects his body differently (no toe-sucking), and bounces several times on his hands and knees once safely on the crash mat (the small rake leading from the Incubator). When Victor touches him JLM rolls away from the Incubator while BC rolls back towards it.
- BC acted with his toes; he’s really thought about the characterisation. This is hard to describe but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean.
- BC’s creature got about a dozen laughs, while JLM’s only had two. This was purely down to delivery; an actor can often choose to make a line humorous by their delivery of it. In some instances the laugh worked well and in others I felt it ruined the impact of the line.
- BC employed a lot of obvious blocking, like pounding upon his chest when he said ‘I’. Usually this is a massive no-no but I think it was a concious decision in order to illustrate the simplicity of The Creature’s nature.
- In terms of blocking, it seemed as if BC was less inhibited by his nudity. In the scenes where The Creature’s only wearing a cloak his gesticulation lifts it away from his body often, while JLM’s kept it close to his skin.
- The blocking in the De Lacey scenes in particular is wildly different, with BC’s Creature seeming more excitable and affording more respect to De Lacey. While JLM remains sat on the bench they share during the scenes outside, BC jumps up onto the bench and bounces on it, his hands by his toes as he extends his limbs, his heels hanging off the end. His exit during the snow scene - a weird bum-shuffle twirling - is a thing of beauty.
- Both Creature’s mouths drop to one side as they speak, though this is more obvious with BC due to his facial features. You can see where the influence of stroke victims has come in play.
- Both Creatures fiddled a lot with the scars on their scalps.
- Following the scene with the prostitute, JLM drank the wine cradled in two hands while sitting hunched over; BC lay on his back, curled almost foetally and sucking at it like a baby would a bottle.
- In De Lacey’s cottage, JLM’s Creature shove the guitar at De Lacey while BC’s attempts to strum it.
- Following the ‘death’ of his wife, BC’s Creature appears to take her pulse. I loved this as it further betrayed his love for learning and hinted that he could have, perhaps, became a scientist like his ‘father’.
- A note on Victor - in the scene with The Creature’s wife, BC’s Victor gyrated against her and then kissed her. While JLM’s also did this, JLM’s kiss was a lot more sexually suggestive, while BC’s was quick with his back to the audience. I’m gonna blame the kiss on Boyle and while I can see the arguments I personally hated it and thus much preferred BC more subtle version.
- BC showed a wonderful progression in his Creature through the use of spinning, something he does throughout. He takes it from an innocent act he repeats when he feels joy to a horrific, violent act as he grabs Elizabeth’s arm, using his strength to spin them around in order to rape her.
- Sorry to say it, ladies, but JLM’s simulated sex was much more believable than BC’s.
- In the final scene, while mourning Victor, BC’s Creature kisses him three times on the forehead. JLM’s Creature kissed him once, with more deliberation. Although JLM’s Creature was undoubtedly more childish in his movement, BC’s was freer in his actions.
- Photos: BC as The Creature during the second scene; BC as The Creature during the Dawn of Eden scene (S7); BC as the creature during the opening scene; JLM as the creature during the second scene.
You made it this far? Really? Damn. Thanks for reading!