Halloween Horror Marathon: Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein

poster - Frankenstein (Boyle)
A little something different for this second-to-last installment of the Halloween Horror Marathon. Last night, the wife and I took in a theatrical rebroadcast of the Nation Theatre’s 2012 production of Frankenstein. Directed by Danny Boyle, this was a production starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, which repeatedly sold out its stagings. Part of that was due to the fact that, each night, Miller and Cumberbatch would switch the roles of the creature and the doctor.

The version we saw last night featured Cumberbatch as the doctor and Miller and the creature. It was absolutely wonderful. It’s not an easy watch, given that the creature raises horrible questions about the nature of man, given his immediate abandonment upon birth, followed by people treating him based on his looks, rather than the content of his character.

The staging is a masterful use of spare sets whose skeletal aspects give you just enough idea of what’s to be portrayed, while also allowing you to focus on the performances themselves. Miller and Cumberbatch are riveting, and you can’t but marvel at the physicality of Miller’s performance.

The play is absolutely mesmerizing, and both Miller and Cumberbatch do exceptionally well in their performances. Despite the play’s name, it’s so much more about the creature and his attempt to join humanity, while all the while being rejected by it. The creature’s part is far more meaty, and I’d be quite curious to see the other version, but, alas, I wasn’t aware of the Monday screening until afterward, so missed that particular version.

When the old man De Lacey spends a year teaching him, the creature grows in intellect and does good deeds for the man’s son and daughter-in-law. They, upon seeing him, beat him and drive him off. He returns, and burns them alive in their shack. It’s heartbreaking to see how the creature has been wronged, and to see kindness on both sides repaid with violence and cruelty. The creature learns all lessons taught him, it seems, and the ones taught most often are lies, cruelty, heartbreak, and deception.

That particular portion of the play is the entire production of Frankenstein in microcosm: the monster learns a terrible lesson, gains hope, and then has his hopes dashed, and each time, becomes closer to being more like his creator than anyone could’ve ever expected. For as learned as both men are — and they are, as the play repeatedly proves, equals — the creature and the doctor are both flawed in ways that are not so obvious, and more alike than pure physicality would otherwise indicate.


If you get a chance to see this, please do. It’s never going to be released on DVD, so these movie theatre screenings are the only way to see it, and that’s really as it should be. Director Boyle and musical performers Underworld mean this is far more cinematic an experience than most nights at the play, and seeing it in an immersive, communal environment means that attention must be paid to what’s going on. It’s an uninterrupted arc, not something you can pause or look at your phone while experiencing.