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In Association with
Frankenstein's Wedding - Live in Leeds (2011)
Creator: Colin Teague

review by J.C. Hartley

Frankenstein seems to be back on the cultural radar, not only providing material for my upcoming (for which read; bound to be last-minute) second-year MA dissertation, but also as high-culture in Danny Boyle's sell-out production of Nick Dear's adaptation for the National Theatre (Frankenstein NT Live), and this pop-culture 'event', at Leeds' Kirkstall Abbey broadcast live by BBC3 on the 19th March 2011.

Performed before a crowd of 12,000 - including 2,000 dancers from local dance-workshops, recruited as wedding guests and trained in a sort of flash-mob wedding dance, the event featured filmed dramatic interludes shown on screens, and sequences on the main stage including the tragic finale. One critic felt that the audience were short-changed, reduced to the status of festival-goers, too far from the stage and reduced to watching the bands on big screens while shuttling between the bar and the temporary toilets, but clearly attending an event like this is everything.

Dramatically it was another case of popular drama tending towards the condition of soap opera, with EastEnders star Lacey Turner in the role of Frankenstein's intended Elizabeth, and some decidedly soapy additions to Mary Shelley's original plot. So, Elizabeth reveals she is pregnant, Frankenstein's best friend Henry has an unrequited love for his buddy's fiancée, and there is a silly subplot about the estrangement between Frankenstein's dad (Mark Williams, Harry Potter films) and his brother Uncle Fred Frankenstein.

These plot devices are not of themselves shallow or reprehensible, Elizabeth's pregnancy fuels the whole notion of the creation of life, and Henry is presented as an army chaplain lately returned from the front, whose faith is at odds with Frankenstein 'playing God'. Unfortunately the by-the-numbers playing of the principals, necessitated by the occasion, makes the philosophical concerns have all the impact of the latest soap sensation storyline. I am of course being too harsh. This was an 'event', and as such was cleverly backed-up by Facebook pages, and 'Maid of Dishonour' (WTF?) Justine's Twitter updates.

The other strand in the production was the illustration of the narrative by the cast's singing of popular standards, so we had the Black-Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling, Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict a Riot, and most effectively, Frankenstein's rendition of Athlete's Wires sung as he destroyed the female creature his original creation has forced him to make. Newcomer Andrew Gower is particularly effective as Victor, especially in his slightly deranged video diaries to the members of the General Medical Council. This Victor thought he was creating a soma, a human body that would provide organs for donation or perhaps a test-subject for drugs, he never expected his creation to display feelings and emotions.

David Harewood's 'creature' is in line with the sympathetic portrayals we have become used to, which after all tend all the way back to Karloff. However, any sympathy we may feel when we see him spare the life of a bullying street-kid is muted somewhat when we consider he has murdered Victor's brother, and then goes on to kill Justine, and Victor's father. The police are called in. Victor goes AWOL with an automatic, and is ultimately killed in a Mexican stand-off with a member of the armed response team, while trying to avenge Elizabeth's stabbing by the creature.

The creature bewails the death of his creator, and then legs it through the crowd. Kirkstall Abbey was a terrific venue for this event, I'm sure the audience had a wonderful time. As I've stressed, the 'event' was all. Dramatically, for the viewer at home, I'm not sure it was quite as satisfying as say 2006's Manchester Passion, but as an attempt to fuse classic literature with a modern sensibility it can be applauded as a worthy enterprise. Mass appeal and the highest qualities of dramatic writing can go hand-in-hand, but it is by no means an easy achievement.

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