Tag Archives: benedict cumberbatch

Frankenstein Review Redux

11 Apr

2000irises: Frankenstein Review Redux

While I’m putting the finish touches on my review of Hanna (I expect to post that tomorrow), I thought I might discuss the opposite casting of Frankenstein. I saw it April 2nd when it ran at Notre Dame. In the first broadcast version, I loved Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature, but now there is NO question in my mind that the Jonny Lee Miller – Creature / Benedict Cumberbatch – Victor is a far better combo. Cumberbatch nails Victor, bringing life and complexity to the character that JLM did not. I originally thought Victor was underwritten and his motivations confused and neglected; now I see what was missing — nuanced acting. I really like JLM as an actor, and maybe he’d had an off night when they filmed (he did seem hoarse and tired), but the difference was remarkable. Instead of just being vaguely a self-centered jerk as played by JLM, Victor is a downright scary sociopath in BC’s hands. Every detail of the performance was different: line delivery, facial expression, physical movement, stage presence — Victor’s very interactions with the other characters changed.

Two examples stand out vividly for me. The very first time we see Victor, he storms on stage and reacts to finding the creature alive with revulsion and horror. JLM rushed onstage, yelled something incoherent at the Creature, threw the cloak at him, and ran away a few seconds later. In contrast, BC rushed on stage and stayed to actually act out the mix of emotions Victor clearly felt. You could see Victor marveling at his accomplishment even while disgusted. The plotting of the scene was the same, but the meaning and relevance changed significantly and took more time.

In another scene, Victor is explaining to Elizabeth why he must return to England. He’s obsessing about creating the Creature’s bride. Victor assures his fiancee that she’s beautiful and he desires her. Where JLM seemed to be just mouthing the words with no emotion whatsoever behind the lines, BC slows down and uses facial expressions to communicate what’s happening in Victor’s mind. He holds up Elizabeth’s arm and studies it with a clinical coldness which is terrifying. We can see he’s imagining her as one of his experiments: she’s a specimen to be considered, not a living, feeling person at all. It’s the first time we see the parallel between the two brides, foreshadowing the coming horror. It’s breathtakingly awful (and freaking awesome.)

On the other hand, I could not see the same variance in the two actors’ portrayal of the Creature. They each did the Creature a bit differently, of course, but not in a way which impacted the significance of the character. Most of the difference lay in their body-types, I felt. JLM is stockier and more powerful, BC is longer and more fluid. I wouldn’t say either was “better.” The delivery, the depth, our belief in the Creature — all these aspects were pretty balanced. JLM was amazing as the Creature, which is obviously an enormous challenge. The role is complex and demanding, and must be hell to act. But bringing life to Victor is a more subtle challenge. Comparatively, Victor doesn’t have much stage time, but he’s still absolutely crucial to the play. We need Victor in order to truly appreciate the structure and meaning of the play.

As an aside, Frankenstein encapsulates something about British performers that captivates me. Good British actors and actresses are versatile in a way even the best American actors rarely are. Both JLM and Cumberbatch have shown they can do period drama, action, freaks, junkies, creeps and weirdos, straight drama, comedy, romance (less so for BC here, but gosh would I love to see more. I’m sure he’d be good at it. *cough-lastenemykisses-cough*) Also many British actors and actresses are as comfortable on stage as they are on screen. Perhaps Hollywood just has a greater tendency to typecast and pigeonhole. Perhaps American theater is too Broadway-focused. Doubtless there are dozens of American performers who can pull off multi-genre, multi-medium performances, but who? Kathleen Turner. Laura Linney. Natalie Portman. Matt Damon? Brad Pitt? Harrison Ford, maybe. (It’s harder to think of men.) I’m sure there are others, but I have to actually think about it. I wouldn’t say the same for British entertainers.

The First Lull

21 Mar

It was inevitable. Writing work kicked up, I was asked to organize a poetry reading, and I missed a blog week. Sigh. I had such good intentions. Anyway, this is me checking in, rather informally, to give an update on my current projects and send out feelers, without a fully-fashioned post. I hope to be back next week with something more ambitious.

As I said, I spent a bunch of time last week organizing and publicizing a Poetry Reading/Open Mic I’m planning for South Shore Arts. It’s at the Crown Point Community Arts Center {Map} on March 25th, 6-9 pm. This event coincides with the final days of the (M)others exhibit, on display until March 26th. I’m still interested in hearing from poets who would like to be added to the reading list before the open mic sign-up starts. Everyone is invited. Everyone.

I’m also compiling an email mailing list for anyone who’d like to stay up to date on literary events in Northwest Indiana, so if that’s you, drop me a line.

Two other events occupied my attention last week. On Wednesday, I heard Jill Alexander Essbaum read her poetry at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum. She writes beautiful, lyrical poems with sometimes shocking, definitely evocative themes: sex, death and religion — often all at once. She’s warm, down-to-earth, funny, self-effacing and clearly proud of her work. If her name is new to you, I recommend her to your attention.

The other wonderful, wonderful, wonderful event I enjoyed last week was Thursday’s live broadcast of the National Theater’s production of Frankenstein.

Click Here for the Trailer

I’d read a few reviews, but I always take reviews with a mountain of salt. I rarely agree with them. (Brainy women like to make up their own minds.) None of the reviews prepared me for how much I’d love this show. It’s disturbing, harrowing, and uncomfortable. The murderous creature is the hero of this production, and we cannot help but sympathize with him even as he commits horrible crimes. (For perhaps the first time?) we hear his voice, experience his agony and loneliness, and feel his suffering. If we cannot excuse his actions, at least we understand he acts out of despair and rage.

This show could easily have been a ridiculous melodrama, and in the hands of lesser lead actors or a more timid director, it would have been. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller are amazing, though. I can’t overstate this. They make this production possible. Watching a man thrash about and screech for ten minutes should be mind-numbing, but instead it is engrossing. The newborn creature’s tension and discomfort enters your body and chest right in those first moments of the play, and there it stays for the next two hours.

Visually, the play is remarkable. The lighting is of course really, really cool, but I also loved the rotating stage floor, the brilliant colors, the use of scrims and the slanted floor of the Frankenstein mansion. I did have some reservations about the plotting which is odd at times, even while it makes narrative sense. (We just don’t get enough of Victor’s point of view to appreciate his struggles and motivations.) The dialogue is a bit heavy-handed in places, too, double-emphasizing the play’s themes verbally when subtlety would work better. Some of the supporting cast seemed a bit off as well. But overall Frankenstein rocked. The play is being re-broadcast soon (the dates vary,) with the lead actors switching roles. Find out when it plays near you on the National Theater Live US Venues site. If you get a chance to see it, absolutely do.

So, that’s it until next week when I write something pithy and deep. Possibly. Or maybe not.

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