The Place
London

28 March 2024

Maggie Foyer

Mark Bruce gained attention as a master of Gothic Horror with his very successful Dracula and he seals his position with Frankenstein in a production to chill the blood. It’s an old theatrical device, the row of bright electric light bulbs front stage that effectively black out everything behind but it works a treat in this production. The first vision to light up is Prometheus, a crouching winged figure, motionless as though carved in rock. The front lights flare and the vision fades to reappear seconds later this time unsettlingly close to the audience. The suddenness of scenes is unnerving as you wait for the next horror to emerge from the blackness.

Dominic Rocca and Anna Daly in Frankenstein
Photo: Mark Bruce

Well-paced and structured, the tale is edited down severely in this 50-minute performance. Jonathan Goddard as The Monster evokes more sympathy than horror although he is certainly fearsome in his battles and murderous moments. Dominic Rocca, as Doctor Frankenstein, is a man possessed by his creation, the tension visible in his body and intense focus. This madness is evident as he searches for body parts among the cadavers in the flame-lit vaults where the reality was so potent, I swear I could smell the putrefaction.

The music and sound score play their part. Music is sweet and even sentimental for the scenes of normality, the picnic, the wedding of Frankenstein and Elizabeth, (Anna Daly) then slipping across the porous interface to the world of darkness come sounds of creaking, rattling and things falling apart. Like the lighting (Guy Hoare) and costume design (Dorothee Brodrück) the team are all on the same page to present this intense, sparse production.

Jonathan Goddard and Carina Howard in Frankenstein
Photo: Mark Bruce

Introducing the mythical character of Prometheus works to give credence to the fantasy of life-giving.  The Modern Prometheus was also the subtitle to Mary Shelley’s novel, and Eleanor Duval, her body painted a murky blue/grey delivers a performance where her stillness is as powerful as her movement. She leaps onto Frankenstein’s stitched up corpse and breathes life into him then remains with him through his life which is as disjointed and disconnected as his body.

Goddard’s fights are brilliantly staged, particularly his battle with Carina Howard, as Narcissus, which is frighteningly brutal. Bruce’s choreography carries the story. Goddard gets excellent material and creates an engaging character, elusive and barely formed, a troubled creature unsure of his own power. The female characters notably Cordelia Braithwaite as The Bride of the Monster, get their share of the action and give strong performances, each finding a different shade of sisterhood.

Jonathan Goddard in Frankenstein
Photo: Mark Bruce

It’s an engrossing production, avoiding black/ white stereotypes and creating characters who despite their weirdness, are possible to relate to. The ultimate villain of the piece is man’s insatiable search for power and the tragedy it brings.

Liberation Day, is a short dance entrée. The performances were streamlined – to the point and given full value – danced to songs written by Bruce. The opening duets set the bar high, and the value didn’t quite reach to the end. The power of the second work served to set this shorter work in the shade and I hope to see the work again in other circumstances.