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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: Frankenstein, 1945 lacks tension

Mary Shelley's monster tale re-imagined in a post-war Germany

There is something to Mily Mumford’s re-framing of Mary Shelley’s horror story in Frankenstein, 1945, but a lack of tension on stage never quite brings this monster to life.

With the changes necessary to fit her new time and location, Mumford does manage to follow closely to Shelley’s original novel. In Mumford’s version, Victor Frankenstein returns to a post-World War II Germany, having recently severed ties with the Nazis and that regime’s medical experiments. Working with Elizabeth, a young Jewish engineer who he is in love with, the duo work to perfect a procedure that will bring back the dead. With the intent of discovering a way to reanimate life, Frankenstein’s monster is born, creating havoc on the streets of Berlin.

Perhaps it is in knowing the story so well, the required tension is never fully realized. As Frankenstein’s monster is born, we are never invested in the horror of its creation. Mumford’s attempt to make Victor a sympathetic character, rather than the mad scientist of the original, never quite rings true. Instead, Victor becomes trapped somewhere between the atrocities of the Nazi medical experiments, and the idea that he is somehow helping mankind with his own.

Mumford also obscures the monster story by adding a same-sex love story that goes nowhere. It would have been more in keeping with Shelley’s original story had the lesbian storyline elicited similar responses to Frankenstein’s monster, holding a mirror to the view on homosexuality of the time. The addition of the Nuremberg trials may help with context, but it too muddies the waters.

Under Mumford’s direction the story suffers from too many locations, with scene changes dragging the pace. An attempt to add a film noir aesthetic also gets in the way of her storytelling. The noir voice-over was an interesting choice, but more often than not it was lost during scene transitions.

CJ McGillvary’s sound design was definitely eclectic, but some of her selections felt more akin to a Sam Spade murder mystery than 1940s post-war Berlin. And while Daniel Tessy’s lighting added some interesting visuals, they too seemed out-of-place, especially when combined with a liberal dose of theatrical fog.

Little things also prove to be problematic, and begin to add up: issues with disposable latex gloves (which were not invented until 1965), uncoordinated exits/entrances, drinking from empty glasses, equipment and set malfunctions.

A hodgepodge of accents also makes following the story difficult. Surprisingly too, given the tiny Studio 1398 space, entire tracts of dialogue were lost as actors failed to project.

There is a kernel here, but in its current form Frankenstein, 1945 does little to expand, illuminate or compliment its source material.

Frankenstein, 1945 written and directed by Mily Mumford based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. A Nebula Company Theatre production on stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright Street, Granville Island, Vancouver) until October 30. Tickets are available online at Ticket Wire.

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