THERE was a time when the only way you could see a play was to go to the theatre and if you wanted to see a film you went to the cinema. But the lines have become blurred ever since The National Theatre came up with the idea of filming some of their productions to show to audiences at regional theatres around the country.
The advantage is obvious. Not everyone can get to London and, even if you could, you may be unlucky in securing tickets to see the performance of choice but the drawback is that theatres aren’t equipped with the same sound or screens as a cinema.
During the NT’s recent critically acclaimed production of Frankenstein director Danny Boyle decided to shake things up by having both his leading men, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, alternate the roles of the doctor and his monster. It meant the only way you could see both men in the lead was to secure two nights of tickets.
I got to see television’s Sherlock Holmes playing the monster. He writhed naked on stage for nearly 20 minutes as the creature literally found his legs. It was an astonishing and deeply moving performance.
On Thursday I joined a full house at The Waterside Theatre to see Miller take the role and I emerged not entirely convinced of the NT’s initiative.
Of course, if it is impossible to get to a theatre then this is the next best thing. It’s a way of making theatre, and the work of arguably England’s most influential venue, accessible to all.
But the sound quality was poor, the atmosphere of a live performance had gone and the interaction between the audience and the players was missing. It was almost as though the play had been robbed of its soul.
In the end Frankenstein was reduced to simply another version of those old grainy black and white horror films from the golden age of movies.
The performances were spell-binding, as you’d expect, although, after seeing both I preferred Cumberbatch’s visceral portrayal of the tortured creature.
Boyle sticks closely to Mary Shelley’s original story about a scientist who is obsessed with playing god and creating life from the discarded remnants of the dead.
The audience must sit through an opening where little other than the odd grunt is heard as the hideously deformed, patchwork man is born and begins learning about life and humanity. It’s a sad reflection of mankind that he only learns the baseness of his companions – to lie, hate, murder without compassion, rape and torment.
Victor Frankenstein is a man with a mission to defy the laws of nature. He mocks traditional Victorian ideals and beliefs, the church, and society until he ends up ostracised like the monster he created.
It is a remarkable play but one which benefits from actually being in a theatre watching two of this country’s most outstanding actors create their own work of genius.
Perhaps I’m a purist but a production, even as magnificent as this, loses a lot in the translation to the screen.