Theatre review: Frankenstein, Playhouse Theatre, QPAC

Shake & Stir Theatre Co's adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic tale mixes traditional and modern theatre together to create a monster of a  production.
Frankenstein. Image is the back of a hairless human like monster, full of scars and markings.

Frankenstein was adapted from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, with Shake & Stir Theatre Co staying true to the original story, but retelling it with a modern sensibility. 

The production takes us straight into the action on a ship at the North Pole where Captain Walton picks up Dr Victor Frankenstein, who is a little worse for wear. 

To relieve him of his madness, Captain Walton asks Frankenstein to tell his story.

Young and ambitious Victor Frankenstein wants to make his mark in the science world creating life from the remains of the dead. A clever scientist with a ludicrous idea, he discovers he cannot bear to be near the unholy monster when it comes to life.

The monster is everything that society loves to hate – he is different, an outsider.

But this monster has a heart and he wants to know what it is to be human. This “knowledge seeking” creature tries his best to fit in, but when society shuns him, sad and abandoned, he turns on it. More specifically, his maker.

As the story unfolds, each encounter between the scientist and the creature sees more devastation brought to both of them, which raises the question – who is the monster? The creator or his creation?

This strange and harrowing tale instils caution about technology and artificial intelligence; Shake & Stir Theatre Co adds layers of complexity into this classic story. 

It’s high stakes for both man and monster, blurring the lines of what makes us human. If we judge a monster by its appearance, why should we be surprised when that monster takes on all that we expect of it?

Darcy Brown is brilliant as the determined Dr Frankenstein who spirals into a mad lonely existence.

Jeremiah Wray is exceptional as the abandoned monster. Watching him learn how to walk is a dance in determination, even heart-warming when he learns language from a family in the forest. The rejection from society is tragic, but Wray’s performance makes it hard to look away. If only we could see more of his face in these initial exchanges, as it is cloaked under the darkness of a large hood for most of the first act.

The ensemble complements these main characters, flowing into each scene. Tony Cogin, Nick James, Jodie le Vesconte and Nelle Lee take on each character with ease. 

The set design by Josh McIntosh is a monster in itself. Using a video-theatre device similar to Sydney Theatre Company’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the projection and moving parts heighten the story to a modern historical period drama with choreographed transitions into each scene. There are also several tricks of fire and explosion that bring energy to a dark story.

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The production feels little long in duration, especially with no interval, but that’s only because hope is lost that anything good will come for man or monster.

The good comes after the show, wherein Frankenstein leaves the audience feeling they can do more to be kinder and to embrace differences.

Adapted by Shake & Stir theatre co

Playhouse Theatre, QPAC 
Adaptor: Nelle Lee
Director: Nick Skubij
Creative Producer: Ross Balbuziente
Designer: Josh McIntosh
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest
Sound Designer: Guy Webster
Video Designer: Craig Wilkinson
Movement and Fight Director: Nigel Poulton
Creature Makeup Design: Steven Boyle
Cast: Darcy Brown, Tony Cogin, Nick James, Jodie le Vesconte, Nelle Lee and Jeremiah Wray

Tickets: from $49

Frankenstein will be performed until 28 October 2023.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.