Frankenstein – The Play Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller

Benedict Cumberbatch is Sherlock Holmes. Jonny Lee Miller is Sherlock Holmes. They’re also both Dr. Victor Frankenstein as well as his Creature in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as directed by Danny Boyle. We’ve seen it and it’s absolutely amazing.

This is The Creature. Not to be confused with Frankenstein as that is its creator's name.

This is The Creature. Not to be confused with Frankenstein as that is its creator’s name.

It’s not too well-known that the Royal National Theatre records its performances and they get screened around the globe, so that everyone gets a taste of stage plays in as big a scope as the stage allows. This year, the theatre turns 50 years old and so, their best and most cherished National Theatre Live (NTL) productions get encore screenings around the globe. Among them: The audience favourite Frankenstein.

Just to make this absolutely clear, should you not read on: If you have any appreciation for storytelling or for acting or for Mary Shelley, then you must see this. This is something you won’t forget easily, if ever. Besides this might be your only chance to see it.

Why You Need to See Frankenstein

The problem with the play is that it will probably never come out on DVD. The reason comes from NTL themselves, because on a now-disappeared part of their website they stated the following:

We have no plans to release a DVD. We know from letters, tweets and emails that a great many people wanted another chance to see the production – and these encore screenings have been scheduled in response to that huge public demand. Our rights arrangements with actors and crew don’t currently permit DVD release, and we’re also keen for as many people as possible to experience the broadcasts in the format for which they were created: broadcast in HD to cinemas.

tl;dr: If you want to see it, then go to the cinema.

Legalese out of the way, here’s why you should actually go see it. In comprehensive list form.

  • The cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Naomie Harris, Ella Smith, George Harris. You know these people. They’re stars and they’re amazing at what they do.
  • The director: Danny Boyle. You know him from movies like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle won an Oscar for the last one of these.
  • The stage: Hundreds of lightbulbs, houses, trains, rain, grass… all on one stage. It’s amazing and really shows what theatre can do.
  • Passion: Even during the first scene, where The Creature is being born, you can tell that this is a work of passion. The actors give it their all.

Basically, unless the legal circumstances change, this just might be your only chance to go see this quite remarkable play.

Most Faithful Adaptation of Frankenstein

A deal is made. Frankenstein and the Creature begin their collaboration.

A deal is made. Frankenstein and the Creature begin their collaboration.

The story is familiar to most, known to few. It’s about a man named Victor Frankenstein who is a genius. He is also arrogant and fancies himself a bit of a god. He combines his knowledge of biology, engineering and other less conventional sciences bordering on the absurd, he creates life. Victor Frankenstein makes a creature, a rough first draft if you will. But the scientist becomes horrified at what he’s done, at his eight foot tall, disgusting abomination and it runs off.

I’ll skip some plot here, because that would go heavily into spoiler territory, but when Frankenstein and the Creature reunite, the former is astonished that his creature is articulate and intelligent. The two have a conversation in which they share their motives and their views on life. This is one of the strongest scenes in the play, where Frankenstein talks about how he did what he did in the name of science and progress, cold and exacting with infinite hubris and arrogance. And the Creature, now on this Earth for a lifetime, is one of its kind, alone and sad.

A deal is struck: Frankenstein will create another life, a female. Someone for the Creature to love so that they may disappear forever and all’s well. And that’s where it all starts to go to shambles.

This is the story of Mary Shelley’s original novel and the play follows it closely. There were only minute details that don’t change the overall narrative of the story.

Classic Horror, Classic Interpretation

While The Creature looks horrible, it is not a dumb brute, devoid of emotion.

While The Creature looks horrible, it is not a dumb brute, devoid of emotion.

Frankenstein is a piece of classic horror. Perhaps it’s the defining horror story, even. It has often been interpreted and some adaptations were more faithful than others. Most seemed to have this idea that The Creature is some sort of brute, removing all its humanity and its intelligence. That’s actually a crime against the story.

Because, you see, the story is not so horrific because there’s a lot of blood, gore and violence. The story is not so horrific because The Creature looks so ghastly. What makes this story so terrible and horrific is the fact that there’s a man who has created life unlike any other. Intelligent life. And with intelligence, there come needs, wants and urges. However, there’s no way that this Creature can ever be part of society. Doomed to be forever alienated, the desperate Creature tries to find a mate. Someone to share existence with, which is arguably one of the more basic human instincts.

The aspects of these stories are expertly delivered. While the Creature certainly is ugly and disgusting by human beauty standards, it’s neither the central aspect of the play nor used for show. In fact, it’s the human struggle of the Creature as the narrative is shifted from Frankenstein to his creation that is the focus of this story.

Your Chance to See it

By all means, you should see Frankenstein. Seriously. You’re missing out. It’s a fantastic story, expertly interpreted and acted out. A good story doesn’t get much better than this.

In about a month, there is another encore. This time around, Benedict Cumberbatch will play The Creature and Jonny Lee Miller will be Frankenstein. You can find all the dates and venues on the official NTL Website. And remember, there might not be a DVD of this. Ever.

Have a little taste.

About Dom

Possessing nigh-encyclopaedic knowledge when it comes to comic books and movies, Dom is one of the co-founders of the Uncanny Book-Club. He also enjoys movies, and going to the cinema.

One Comment

  1. I just saw the encore screen showing at a Century Theatre in Tucson, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature. I can hardly express my delight in the entire production, particularly in the performances of Cumberbatch and Miller and the superurb adaptation and execution of a timeless classic, fresh, yet faithful to it’s original form. I will also be going to see the next showing in a couple days with Miller as the creature. That being said, I hope this will not be my last and only opportunity to enjoy this fine work, and sincerely hope the legal situation will change in favor of the release of a DVD. In other words, this has been my long-winded and shameless plea for such an action. Please, make a DVD.

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