Snapshots of modern horror
By Owen James
Don’t Look Away’s modern-day production of Frankenstein presents the classic tale reinterpreted to face issues of tolerance, diversity, sanctuary and acceptance.
The horror of this Frankenstein comes not from a fictional, gothic world, but from the mirror that this production holds to the horrors of contemporary Western society. We are asked to reflect on our own place in the world, as Frankenstein’s monster desperately tries to find its own.
The stripped-back script by Lally Katz (after Mary Shelly) presents us with every necessary moment for plot development, but no more. Within a tight 65 minutes, the familiar but gargantuan story is totally reinvented for a modern audience, and then thrown at us in a series of fast-paced vignettes of both drama and comedy, with the themes and characters given a welcome priority. Director Phil Rouse ensures these vignettes are seamlessly connected, finding the thematic flow between sharp bubbles of action and moments of heightened dramatic tension.
The choice of Chantelle Jamieson as The Creation is a compelling and powerful one, her gender and ethnicity intrinsically linked to the thematic content of both the play and the character. She presents a Creature not unlike a possible young woman of today – lost in a confusing world without guidance – and draws every bit of intertextuality out of the text possible, ensuring the audience is left both uncomfortable and amused. With mesmerising stage presence in every scene, it is unmistakably her journey we are following.
The titular Victor himself is presented through an incredibly physical performance by Michael McStay. This Victor is not an arrogant scientist but a man as lost and confused as his own creation. Although presenting levels of both eye-opening physicality and balanced subtlety, McStay’s dramatic side could not always match his natural affinity for comedy.
Their performances are joined with beautifully timed assistance from Martin Quinn as the onstage assistant. Some of the best comedic moments came from the presence of Quinn’s movement or assistance onstage, and I would almost love to have seen more from this quirky addition.
The bold and inventive sound design by Neil McLean creates the perfect atmosphere, and also adds to the comedy of the piece with the synthetic texture of pulsing 80’s beats. Lighting by Richard Whitehouse is evocative and resourceful, matched by sets and costumes by Martelle Hunt, which are simple but incredibly effective.
When exposed and stripped back, the themes and characters of Frankenstein are hauntingly relevant to modern issues prevalent worldwide. The uncompromising sharp wit of Don’t Look Away’s tight production ensures these themes will continue to turn around in your mind long after you leave the theatre. Ultimately we are faced with a question of acceptance, and a challenge to embrace the ignored.
Frankenstein runs at TheatreWorks in St Kilda until July 29, tickets through theatreworks.org.au
Image by Sarah Walker