Rhinegold Photo credit: Helen Murray
Ella Dacres and Sarah Lusack in NYT's production of Frankenstein at Southwark Playhouse

Eleanor Philpot

Review: NYT REP’s Frankenstein

3:28, 21st November 2019

Currently running at Southwark Playhouse, the NYT REP’s production of Frankenstein explores important scientific debate, present in the original text, that is more relevant today than ever before. 

The NYT REP company have become known for their excellent adaptions of classic works, which not only instil a love of theatre in many students, but enrich learning across the national curriculum, including productions that are commonly studied at GCSE and A Level.

The REP’s most recent endeavour, Frankenstein adapted by Carl Miller and directed by Emily Gray, brings the gothic tale to the present day, updating the central moral debate of the story from religious morality to ethical questions surrounding technological advances.

The play functions as a story within a story, beginning with Garth (Sonny Poon Tip) who presents to an academic panel (the audience) his sister Bob’s findings from an arctic expedition (Bob played by Natalie Dume). During her adventure, Bob meets Victoria Frankenstein (Ella Dacres) who, terrified, grieving and sick with pneumonia, takes shelter in Bob’s camp to hide from her creation who has killed her family. In structuring the story in such a way, with an academic, objective viewpoint interspliced between moments of high drama, the play is able to explore key themes from Shelly’s original story: whether the search for higher truth and scientific objectivity can sometimes allow us to miss more pressing emotional matters. This is personified in Bob’s own personal dilemma: whether to continue the expedition or to save Victoria.

One of the most striking aspects of the adaptation is Miller’s choice to reject the creation’s most familiar incarnation as a zombie made up of odd parts of human flesh, and instead opt for an A.I. robot. In doing so, the play explores moral concerns relating to advances in modern technology, making the story relevant for contemporary audiences.

The performances by both Ella Dacres as Victoria Frankenstein and Sarah Lusack as Shell (the creation) are exceptional and help to further explore these important moral issues. Lusack embodies the coldness of a machine, with automated movements that never miss a beat (watching her climb the stairs alongside the audience is incredibly unsettlingly, turning her head slightly to the side, watching us all with glazed, emotionless eyes), her voice always even. It contrasts perfectly with the passion of Dacres as the doctor, who conveys her pain, loss, frustration and guilt with such intensity. Dacres centre stage with tears rolling down her face as she stares into the cold eyes of her creation is a difficult image to shake and makes the Shell’s gruesome murders of her family later on in the play even more unsettling – prompting questions as to whether a machine could ever successfully integrate itself into society.

Lusack also creates pathos for the creature, playing her with a certain childlike innocence that makes the two’s interaction reminiscent of a negligent parent and their child. This highlights the immorality of the doctor’s standpoint; to create something that can think and comprehend and (to an extent) feel, and not take responsibility for its wellbeing is ultimately cruel. On multiple occasions the doctor disregards the creature’s loneliness – she not only refuses to make her an automated companion but won’t even hug her. In seeing the doctor as flawed the audience are asked to question her actions.

The use of V.R. headsets towards the end of the play is successful and doesn’t feel gimmicky, in fact it allows us further to understand the monster’s isolation, roaming the Antarctic companionless. Seeing the endless freezing waters and giant icebergs up close, with no friend to turn to, is at times terrifying and suffocating. When the moment comes to return to the action of the play, to see the other audience members gasping and laughing and watching intently is a relief. Whether this was Gray’s intention or not, the use of V.R. headsets seems to intertwine with the play’s central moral argument, that technology cannot match the intensity and the warmth of human expression and emotion.

Frankenstein will demonstrate to students (and adults alike) the relevance of Shelly’s story for modern theatre goers, featuring impressive performances that drive home the moral conscience of the play, particularly relating to the questions surrounding technological and scientific development.

To find out more about the upcoming NYT REP season and to book tickets, visit:  https://www.nyt.org.uk/rep19

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