These are interesting times at the Garrick Playhouse in the leafy south Manchester suburb of Altrincham. Under the aegis of Artistic Director Joseph Meighan, their programming is broadening its appeal beyond the traditional light comedy and murder mystery, into edgier and darker territory. So, we find 2022 kicking off with an absolutely cracking adaptation of the Mary Shelley gothic masterpiece, both chilling and thought provoking and with a simply stunning central performance.
Those patrons expecting a hoary old ‘Boris Karloff with a bolt through the neck’ rendition, would have been disappointed. With Direction and Set Design in the capable hands of Barry J C Purves, this was always going to be a more delicate study on the nature of humanity. By using Nick Dear’s 2011 National Theatre adaptation of the Shelley novel, placing The Creature (Rhys Nuttall) at the centre of the story gave both pace and arc to the two-hour production, dispensing with the unnecessary backstory of the creator.
We begin at the moment of creation with the obsessive and compulsive Victor Frankenstein (Tom Cunningham) bringing life to the inanimate creature. The two level set with a simple curtain is wholly black, lit with white spotlights casting long shadows onto the walls of the theatre, both effective and appropriate as it emerges from a metallic tub. From this point on Rhys Nuttall’s creature simply dominates, his performance is stunningly crafted as The Creature, with each step in his development into sentience carefully choreographed and incorporated. The movement of Nuttall around the stage in these scenes is masterful, balletic grace combined with a strength that was hypnotic to observe, as each new sensation was encountered it produced both comedy and pathos without any dialogue being required. By turns, apelike and clumsy he instils meaning into each gesture, holding the audience in rapt attention every time he is on stage.
As the story progresses, we observe the best and worst of mankind. The Creature encounters both hostility and kindness wandering through the world, searching first for the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’, morphing into his quest to find his creator and create a companion in his loneliness. The scenes with De Lacey (Hugh Everett), a blind peasant who teaches The Creature to read and showing him the only warmth he encounters, are delicate and tender and his development towards humanity serves to make later scenes involving both murder and rape all the more compelling.
An issue with such a strong central performance was that the parallel story of Victor Frankenstein was somewhat overshadowed in the narrative, with Cunningham needing more obsessional madness in his performance to match the physicality and dominance of Nuttall. In the same way Cumberbatch/Miller found in the original NT production, doing this allows the relationship with his fiancé Elizabeth (Amy Lou Harris) to take a more prominent part in the latter story and provide some balance. Victor Frankenstein’s story is a sorry tale of how single-minded passion can fatally cloud judgment and the play asks us whether a person is innately good or evil, or is it society which dictates our character and actions.
Overall, an ambitious and successful realisation of an excellent adaptation, lifted to another level by a superb performance from Nuttall as The Creature. Amateur theatre of the very highest quality.
Frankenstein continues at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse until Saturday 22nd January https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/frankenstein/ Please Note: Reduced seating capacity performances on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 17th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★