Style: Site-specific promenade
Where: Sutton House, 2 – 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, E9 6JQ
When: Until 3rd November
To Note: Mobility required – will climb stairs, dress warmly
Frankenstein sets itself firmly in the 80s before the show begins with a thumping and iconic 80s soundtrack. As you enter the “squat” space and are greeted by a group with a very strong ‘Legs Akimbo‘ vibe telling ghost stories. As Mary speaks, she tells of a dream she had – a dream the group shared of a family suffering a tragedy.
As they tell it the story takes over and we are led through their interpretation of Frankenstein.
First my usual bugbear. This isn’t an immersive production despite being billed as such. Yes, the audience goes on separate journeys in the first half, but there is no interaction between us and the characters and no audience-led content.
What it is is site-specific. It makes excellent use of Sutton House as a venue, drawing both on its recent history as a squat and arts venue and it’s gothic grandeur as a space. It works to heighten the tension right down to having appropriately creaky wooden doors.
The story is a feminist twist on the classic Frankenstein story, strengthening the character of Justine (Kay Helps) to make her Victor’s equal rather than subordinate and making the monster a woman (Molly Small). The traditional loneliness of the monster is heightened by her desire to become a mother – to have someone to love and depend on her wholly. While This is an interesting approach that did make the women of the piece much more visible, I’m not sure how feminist it is to centre the female experience on motherhood. But the delivery – especially by Molly Small was so powerful that it worked.
The play uses a number of clever devices. The lighting, in particular, was exceptionally well designed not just to direct your mood, but to literally tell you what was happening. The switch from the spotlights of the action to the fairy lights of the interval literally lifted the mood. The music works to set different moods throughout and as mentioned, the use of the Sutton House space works very well.
I was less enthralled by the costumes and props which blended 1980s with early 1800s in a way that didn’t quite work for me. The show of Victor playing SEGA as he deteriorated and went into himself was well done in itself, but overall, it just confused to the point where it distracted from the drama.
A particular mention has to be made for the puppetry. Its inherent creepiness is well rewarded with a second half twist that was as brilliantly shocking as it was dramatic. Incredibly well played out, it set the scene for an incredibly affecting last 20 minutes that I found moving, disturbing and hard to shake off. If you’re anything like me, the challenge of the last 5 minutes will stay with you for some time and it is the strength of this ending that more than makes up for any pickiness I had earlier.
This is a disturbing, enlightening and properly gothic production. The ambience and atmosphere of Sutton House suits the drama perfectly and the cast delivers thoughtful scares throughout.