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Lee Jones as the creature. Photo: Heidrun Lohr.

Playhouse, April 3, 2013

 “I am lonely,” cries the creature to its maker, Victor Frankenstein, and that torment is the lighting bolt animating this brilliant production. Occasionally script, director, actors and design are as one, and theatre becomes powerfully confronting. This was such a night.

Against the odds playwright Nick Dear has breathed fresh life into Mary Shelley’s seminal masterpiece, to which he remains intrinsically true, despite having cut and churned the story’s telling. He has focused particular blasts of insightful energy on the creature’s predicament. We are even inclined to forgive this serial murderer his crimes, such is the sympathy we feel for his being despised, rejected, feared, beaten, hungry, lonely, unloved and nameless. More than ever he becomes a metaphor for all outcasts, pariahs and refugees.

Lee Jones turns in a towering performance as the creature. The play begins with him near-naked, tossed and contorted by high-voltage spasms as electricity jolts life into the dead flesh of which he is composed. Jones then brushes against genius as his creature discovers life. Fingers, hands, limbs and body all astound him as fresh miracles. The wider world of sun, rain, birds and food is encountered without verbal language, but with a richness of physical expression to grip as hard as any speech.

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Katie Fitchett (Elizabeth) and Lee Jones. Photo: Heidrun Lohr.

“What is love?” he asks De Lacey (Michael Ross), the kindly old man who, being blind, is not afraid to teach him to speak, spell, read, write and think. The creature also dreams, including of joyous sex in a touching dance sequence.

It is desire for a mate that drives him back to his maker, Frankenstein (Andrew Henry). While the creature has been learning to feel, Frankenstein’s heart has turned to stone, and Henry catches the hectic collisions of pride, horror, anguish, guilt and hard-headed scientific curiosity. Yet the creature feels the same irrational love for him that humanity does for its own gods.

Kate Fitchett brings both ethereal and sensual charm to Elizabeth, Victor’s betrothed. The intensity inevitably drops when Jones is absent, and Olivia Stambouliah, Brian Meegan, Michael Rebetzke are yet to be fully credible in the minor roles.

Nonetheless Mark Kilmurry’s direction is a singular achievement. His non-literal presentation fires our imaginations, and thereby makes us conductors in the credibility of the play’s premise. His decaying gothic vision is beautifully served by Simone Romaniuk’s design, Nicholas Higgins’ lighting and, above all, sonically. Elena Kats-Chernin’s score for solo cello (Heather Stratfold) drips with pathos and dovetails with Daryl Wallis’s eerie sound world.

The Ensemble Theatre feels recharged.