Frankenstein- the ballet (encore screening)

So this is somewhat late as a review- the international screening took place last Wednesday but I was in the Highlands and busy writing, so caught the encore screening at the Manchester Printworks on the way back (like you do.)

By the way, the conversion of the Printworks into a destination entertainment/foodie place is quite extraordinary. It doesn’t matter what the time is, you walk in and you’re in a different time zone, in fact a different part of life. I turned up just before 2pm on Sunday and there was a band playing, people dancing, and there is no natural light- so it’s as if you’re partying all night, whatever the time of day. Clever and probably helps people spend more money. They’re relaxed, they’re in the mood for some fun, so it’s easy to empty pockets.

But despite the commercialism, I did love it. There’s a theatricality that is so appealing. I would at this point upload some photos but my camera is playing up (chose your epithet****)


Back to the production. I wasn’t sure what to expect having read some not such good reviews. But I’d seen photos of the costumes which looked stunning. I was right. Some of the sets weren’t quite as imaginative as I’d hoped, but the dissection theatre- just like a Dutch painting, jars of specimens at the ready, was perfect, as was the new fangled electricity generating machine- a flight of creativity and imagination by the props department.

And the costumes- the monster’s costume/make up was remarkable- as only I suspect the talents of the best make up artist can create. And the physical visceral dancing and movement just added to the emotional depth of portrayal of his character. So wanting to be loved, so unloveable, and that desire converting to hatred was a journey of mire leading to catastrophe on a grand scale.  The stage littered with dead bodies at the end was a typically Romantic gothic outcome but nothing else would do in the circumstances.

The portrayal of Elizabeth as the pure, caring innocent of Mary Shelley’s novel was developed so that she did seem to eventually portray a sexually awakened woman, both in love with Frankenstein as a sister and a lover (one of those oddities of the storyline- somehow she’s an adopted sister as well as the love interest- Freud would have had a lot to say to Mary Shelley…), a person who sees the best and brings out the best in everyone she meets, but in her tussles with the monster we see both her strength and a subliminated desire.

The deftness in lightness and darkness- evil and good- was time and again illustrated in the set and in the costumes. There was a deep shadow over the wedding scene- with the corp de ballet’s deepest crimson and midnight blue dresses there was no doubt that there was something truly awful about to happen despite the white and silver of the married couple. The grim shadows and dark colours at William’s birthday party  despite the pretty decorations and light coloured cake, again sent a warning of tragedy unfolding.

I was always going to be a little suspicious of a contemporary ballet that was so much based on narrative, but the physicality and robustness, the raw energy of the male pas de deux- Frankenstein and the monster, towards the end of Act 3 countered any concerns I’d had. It was the most accomplished choreography and dancing I’d seen for a very long time- totally gripped by it, for once it was good to see it on screen rather than on stage as the audience benefited from the cameras being able to zoom in. (Usually it annoys me as it stops me being able to watch as I would live, being able to scan for interesting action taking place elsewhere on stage.) Liam Scarlett has done a remarkable job of creating something new and very exciting from a story we all feel we know so well- it’s adopted and in the communal psyche- but it felt as if we had the story completely revisited by this production.

I must comment on the musical score as well. After the first act I was already wondering if Lowell Leibermann’s exquisite score would survive recreating as an orchestral suite. There is so much in it that repays a return visit, and it would be a real shame if it only ever was played when the ballet was produced- as the story is so well conveyed in the music itself and the orchestration was beautifully constructed.

It was sad thatthere were only about 15 or 20 people watching the encore, but I hope that it was packed out on Wednesday night, as it so deserved to be.






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