Apologies if this blog has gone a bit HEAT recently. It was getting a little out of hand with the pervy poetry and spin-off tweets, so in this post we promise you something MUCH MORE CEREBRAL AND CIVILISED.
With that in mind I’m going to talk about Danny Boyle’s new production of Frankenstein at The National. I’ve been trying to post this for a week, but a combination of back-to-work madness and being plain starstruck had rendered me mute.
Anyway, as you’ll have seen from the gazillion reviews of which here is one, it is amazing.
Unsurprisingly. Pretty much everything Boyle touches turns to gold. But it was interesting to see him return to his roots in theatre – and to see him back with his old friends Underworld and Jonny Lee Miller. Frankenstein is a story of the endless pursuit of perfection in creation. In this production, Danny Boyle and Nick Dear have come as close to that as you can probably get. And it’s easily the most filmic of plays you’ll ever see.
But there are a couple of things that really stand out in my memory a week on. The lighting, the score, the ironic doubling up of actors… and the inevitable ritual humiliation endured at the after-party.
“I brought torrents of light to a darkening world”
This picture doesn’t do it justice, but there is an absolutely massive network of hundreds of intricate light-bulbs on the ceiling above the stage. Each of them is controllable individually, so that it becomes an amazing canvas that works in perfect sync with the music, to mesmerising effect.
Apparently Underworld have it earmarked for their next tour, which I’m sure will be amazing, although I’m struggling to see how they’ll get it erected above Clapham Common for the England leg of their tour. They deserve to take it though – the music was belly-flutteringly good. As emotive as ever, and in all the right places. You can hear a sample here.
One of the most amazing things about this production is the twist that the two lead actors must swap places every night. So unless you’re really rich, you’ve got to pick your night. I saw it with Victor played by Benedict Cumberbatch, which I’d recommend if you’re a ‘Sherlock’ fan, as you can really see traces of him coming through in his borderline autism.
Whichever way round you see it, you can’t help but be in awe of their acting ability. It’s not enough that you’ve just wowed everyone on stage at the Olivier by completely mastering a character’s portrayal. No. As ‘Ben’ put it in the bar afterwards, ‘you’ve got to then erase everything you just did and get into the mindset of someone entirely different in under 24 hours’. I can think of nothing more scary. Well, except maybe the ‘Creature’ himself.
“With God’s help I’ll conquer this terrible affliction…”
Whilst I remain forever grateful for my ticket to the first of two press nights, I also wish I’d prepared something interesting to say, just in case I should stumble across Danny the Champion of the British Film World himself in the bar afterwards. He was actually standing on his tod looking a bit lost so I had no choice but to acknowledge him, or worse, attempt dialogue with this person who has created so many of my favourite films. Sadly what came dawdling out of my mouth was ‘can I just say, that was amazing,’ to which he replied a ludicrously humble, ‘really, was it ok?’ and after that I felt the need to run for the hills and leave this poor brilliant man alone.
I’m hopefully not alone in this socially-debilitating affliction, but, when I come face to face with an UTTER CREATIVE HERO all faculties go into spasm. My IQ nosedives, any charisma flatlines, and worst of all my Pun Tourettes kicks in (see Fig. A ).
Anyway, the affliction went on, when an hour later I found myself talking to a man in a very funny t-shirt. Emblazoned in big letters it said FRANKENSTAIN. Next to the letters there was indeed, a massive stain, with a circle round it. I asked him whether he’d bought it the T-shirt in the gift shop and he said no, it was a genuine coffee stain from Mcdonalds cappucino, and that his partner had beautifully art directed the letters in marker pen. It looked so real I told him he should start selling them. I then dropped a proper clanger by asking him if he was involved in the show at all. My friend later informed me he was in fact Rick Smith, one half of Underworld, one of my favourite bands of the last 20 years… to which the only reply in my head was ‘make it stop, apple Z, Apple Z…’
On the contrary, it got yet worse when I then found myself talking to the other half of Underworld, and asked him if he was Darren Emerson (the one that left ten years ago). Oops, I’d got my faces muddled up and it was in fact Karl Hyde (oh, why won’t someone invent a Facemapping/google app to help you out of these ‘ground/swallow’ moments?).
Despite my drivel Karl persisted with talking to me and – hooray – a whole twenty minute conversation about writing was achieved. Karl told me all about how Tomato, his design collective who also do music for ads, was set up. But most of all he talked about his writing process which was really interesting. I told him I was really enjoying his diaries on their site – they’re written in this ethereal, poetic way that’s very similar to the lyrics in their music (and equally esoteric in places). He talked about how he is always jotting down fragments of thoughts and ideas. That’s not so unusual – a lot of us do that. But what’s interesting is what he does with them. He kind of catalogues them by mood. And then, when he’s composing music, he just asks himself, what kind of mood was I in that day, and uses it to help write an emotion or lyric into a track. Pretty cool way of ordering what’s by definition so disordered.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Frankenstein has got some proper geniuses involved, and it’s well worth seeing.
It certainly left a mark on me and the people I went with. One that will take longer to come out in the wash than Rick Smith’s stain, perhaps.