Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein

The only thing I could say about this production is, it is a blast.

The end.

Just kidding. That’s not ALL I have to say. There are just too much to know where to start properly right away but overall, yes, it’s a blast, a terrific blast.

I don’t usually watch plays. Well, do I usually watch anything would be the more appropriate question. I’m very picky about what I watch because of the horrible aftertaste Hollywood films tend to give me these days. (Sorry for the generalization. It’s just more often true than not.) I guess I’m just too old to not be critical anymore. I don’t want to waste my time on high-octane, graphic-oriented, story-butchered entertainment.

Few things I tend to see quite keenly in the first view is the story, the script, and the directing. Acting isn’t something I pay that much attention to, generally never as long as it doesn’t stick out as being ridiculously bad. Amazingly, the acting overshadows everything  else in Frankenstein, including script and directing. I didn’t see any of the stuffs I tend to see in my first viewing. I was just mesmerized by Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller to even start criticizing what they were saying.

Okay, I have to admit here that I know about this production because I am following Benedict Cumberbatch – not in a weird stalker kind of following, mind you. He’s the only actor I ever consider watching his entire filmography not only because he’s fantastic in his work but because he has also chosen fantastic projects to work with. I first saw him in Hawking when I was way younger – liked it a lot, but didn’t think much about it. Then I watched Sherlock where he plays the enigmatic detective to the new level of priggery – didn’t recognized him at all, of course. I am not the fan of the books because I have read too much detective story for my own good to find Conan Doyle’s interesting, but him and  Martin Freeman got me hooked with their adorable bickering. Still, honestly, I didn’t think much about it. I was too obsessed with the witty scripts and the overall awesomeness of the show to be picking on details.

It was until I saw his interviews, until I learnt that he was in Hawking years before and was nominated a BAFTA for that, until I realized how wide a range he actually possesses. Actors, as good as they are, are often like other artist: they leaves signatures of who they are on the piece. Benedict rarely does that. He is a chameleon, being able to change his body languages down to the way he flickered his eyes or the involuntary jerk of his arms. Benedict Cumberbatch does not walk, talk or hold himself like Sherlock Holmes. It was as if they are really two different people.

In Frankenstein, he pushes that even further. I listened to one or two of his interview on his preparation to be the Creature a year ago when the play was actually in production in London. He mentioned studying the process of rehabilitation for severely injured patients and the interaction of autistic children. A year later, I got to see the result of that hard work. They really are all there in the way he moves, the way he talks, the way he interacts with other characters. The first glorious ten minutes or so of him writhing on the floor as the newborn Creature learning his body and finally walking is the most tiring and inspiring sequence of the entire play. It was like watching a baby antelopes struggling to get on its feet, unable to find the right footing or twitch of the muscles, only that it looks harder for the Creature because that body was sewed together. You can see how the Creature obtains much of its body language from that sequence alone.

Throughout the play, he continues to be brilliant, eliciting laughter just by how he choose to say a word or simply the way he sits down on a chair. I was sure it wasn’t meant to be funny, and he might not have meant to be funny, but it was funny. It takes some edges out of the Creature and gives it range and depth.

Problem is, he is so brilliant and natural his performance eclipses the script itself. Might be a good thing or a bad thing because the script is okay but not fantastically good. Benedict’s performance can easily distract the audience from the flaw or from the point. The former would be desirable, the latter would be leave people rather confused. I actually understands the purpose of each scene a lot better when Johnny Lee Miller is the Creature. But because his performance doesn’t outdo the script by a lot, any flaw in the script and the directing can be jarring. I am not saying that his creature is not as good, it’s rather a different interpretation, a different decision on the actor’s part. Some people like Benedict’s Creature better, some will like Johnny’s creature better.

I’m in the first camp, actually, because I think Johnny Lee Miller is much more menacing as Victor Frankenstein. Benedict’s Victor is much more expressive, much more understandable from the audience point of view (it probably has something to do with the camera doing more close-up on Benedict than on Johnny in the broadcast, too.) Johnny’s Victor is much more closed off and subtle. His stances alone would make you believe he does not want to have anything to do with the rest of humanity and make you doubt his love for Elizabeth almost instantly. Again, this is about different interpretation of the character. It works both ways. I just found Johnny’s Victor complimenting Benedict’s Creature better than the other way around.

If there is any regret after watching this show, is that I didn’t get to watch it live and there is no DVD to repeat the experience. Now, I am not complaining because the broadcast lessen the intensity of the show. I think they did a great job in filming and editing the play even though I do get irritated at times when the camera wasn’t pointing where I wanted it to. It is just that I regret not seeing it as it is intended to be seen. For that reason, I will not go into Danny Boyle’s directing and a couple of decision I found rather curious. And, really, it is a blast. If anyone offers me a chance to watch it again, I’ll watch it again. This show really deserves the raving it got.

Here’s the original trailer of the play.

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