by Salman Hameed
On Saturday, I had a chance to see the Danny Boyle (yes, of 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire fame) production of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The play is being performed on National Theater Live in London, but a number of movie theaters are showing it live (I saw at Amherst Cinema). If your town is showing it, please go and see it. It is absolutely phenomenal!
This production is based on a play by Nick Read and is presented from the perspective of the Creature, who gets more and more erudite as the play progresses. Frankenstein was written in 1818, and perhaps the first fully realized science fiction novel. But it is a timeless piece of literature (you can read the book here). We can see it today in light of all the developments in genetics and synthetic life experiments.
The play by Nick Read features some phenomenal acting - both by the person playing Victor Frankenstein and the creature. In a bold creative experiment, the two main actors exchange their roles in the second version of the play. The acting is so amazing, that I cannot imagine the guy playing the creature in a different role. So I may end up seeing the play again with the swapped roles for the two leading actors (the two version alternate from night to night).
Much of the play centers on issues that are of concern to Irtiqa (i.e. of science, religion, and ethics). After all, Frankenstein is playing God by creating "man" with the help of electricity. It is fascinating that the concept of electricity was still relatively new at the time of Mary Shelley - but here she is writing about the potential of using it as a spark for life. The creature compares himself to Adam. He even gets a chance to ask his creator the reason for his creation - and laments that "I did not asked to be born". This is the creation story for the age of science!
The novel is set in backdrop of Romanticism. We see the creature initially as pure and noble, but it is the civilization that corrupts him. To leave no doubt about this, there is a fantastic scene when the creature quotes from Milton's Paradise Lost. Indeed there are parallels between Victor Frankenstein and the satan in Paradise Lost. The play is indeed a cautionary tale about science and modernity, and a caution against science being in the wrong hands.
Pride is the culprit.
But the play is also about the need for love and the fear of being alone. The desire for a community. Or at least a companion. Now that he was born, all that the creature wanted from Victor Frankenstein - his creator - was a companion.
Everything in this production of Frankenstein is meticulous. Stage design, writing, acting - all of these are of very high calibre. This, in fact, was a more emotionally moving experience than watching the very good movie version of Jane Eyre - which is in theaters right now (check it out too).
Go see Frankenstein. I think I will be watching the second version on May 7th.