Frankenstein – Reviews Round-up

A reviews round-up of Frankenstein at the National Theatre in London

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein
Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein

Film director Danny Boyle has returned to the stage to create an atmospheric new production of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel Frankenstein at the National Theatre.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate in the roles of Dr Frankenstein and his monster, and the critics praised both versions, although slightly favoured Cumberbatch as the monster.

The direction and design of the production enjoyed universal praise, although Nick Dear’s script was criticised by some reviewers for lacking the gravitas and weight of the production as a whole.

Frankenstein is now sold out at the Olivier Theatre, but will be screened live in cinemas on 17 March 2011 (Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature) and 24 March (Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature).

See reviews below for the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Independent and Evening Standard.


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Average Critics Rating


“a humane, intelligent retelling of the original story in which much of the focus is on the plight of the obsessive scientist's sad creation, who becomes his alter ego and his nemesis: it's rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban's point of view.”
“As a piece of staging, it is brilliant.”
“Boyle and Dear, in focusing more on the victim than on Victor, downplay some of Shelley's themes.”
“Cumberbatch's Creature is unforgettable. "Tall as a pine tree," as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos... But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch.”
“Miller's strength, in contrast, lies in his menace. Stockier than Cumberbatch, his Creature makes you believe in the character's Satanic impulse and in his capacity for murder... But when it comes to Frankenstein, I felt Cumberbatch had the edge in that he offered clearer hints of the scientist's cold-hearted single-mindedness.”
“The actors complement each other perfectly rather than provide a contest and Boyle's production is a bravura triumph in which Mark Tildesley's design provides a whole series of visual coups.”
“Once or twice the language lapses into bathos: you feel Victor's bride might come up with something less prim than "We'll have none of that" when the Creature paws her breast. But, on the whole, this a stunning evening.”
Michael Billington, The Guardian
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“both versions are well worth seeing. Miller, however, strikes me as the more disturbing and poignant monster, while Cumberbatch undoubtedly has the edge as the scientist who is ultimately revealed to lack the humanity of the unhappy creature he has created.”
“Nick Dear’s sometimes plodding script doesn’t always live up to the brilliance of Boyle’s direction or the nervy intensity of the lead performances.”
“Boyle, returning to the theatre after his Oscar-winning success with Slumdog Millionaire, pulls off something truly spectacular here.”
“The play doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gory horrors – the fate of Frankenstein’s bride is particularly grisly - while the final scene is as bleak as anything in Beckett.”
“The production may be intermittently hobbled by dud dialogue and second-rate supporting performances, but at its best there is no doubt that Frankenstein is the most viscerally exciting and visually stunning show in town.”
Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph
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“The National Theatre has a hit on its hands. This pulsating take on Mary Shelley's 1818 gothic novel features Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who alternate as Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation. Both are captivating.”
“There's also appropriately eerie music from Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld.”
“The Creature's growth towards eloquence is poignant and funny. Mark Tildesley's design is full of brilliant surprises and operatic touches, and the Olivier's revolve is used adroitly.”
“Having seen each essay both roles, I'd say Cumberbatch is the more convincing as the science-mad Frankenstein. Both are superb as the Creature, models of fidgety physicality.”
“Nevertheless, there are problems that will trouble some theatregoers. A lot of them lie in Nick Dear's script.”
“George Harris appears miscast as Frankenstein's starchy father. Yet the occasionally leaden writing and patchy support don't dampen the sense that Frankenstein is bracing theatre. It's stylish and ambitious.”
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard
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“in this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, too long vulgarised into horror films and monster cartoons, the writer, Nick Dear, and director, Danny Boyle, come fresh to the wonder and fear of it by taking the Creature’s point of view. If he is a monster, it is only because he meets abuse and blows.”
“It is a hell of a production: the set itself conveys unease, rising and revolving into harsh surprises. But it is the Creature that mesmerises, developing a jerky, defective, heartbreaking eloquence as ideas and desires invade him.”
“Mark Tildesley’s stunning design and Bruno Poet’s remarkable lighting effects use the Olivier’s vastness with controlled, imaginative strength. The music, by Underworld, is perfect.”
Libby Purves, The Times
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“Nick Dear's taut, fiercely focused version of Frankenstein – a project that has brought Oscar-winning film-maker Danny Boyle back to his theatrical roots – offers a radically different ending from either Mary Shelley's 1818 novel”
“Danny Boyle's extraordinarily haunting production”
“The role-reversal makes deep thematic sense because it highlights the irony whereby the son becomes the father and the slave the master. Broadly speaking, Cumberbatch emphasises the intellectual edge of both roles; Lee Miller takes us further into the feeling.”
“These are strikingly imaginative productions that pack a devastating cumulative punch and that score, in the altered dynamics of the central double act, a singular success.”
Paul Taylor, The Independent
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📷 Main photo: A reviews round-up of Frankenstein at the National Theatre in London

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