Sunday 23 September 2018

Review: Franknstn, Abbey Theatre

Review: Franknstn, Abbey Theatre until September 1

Louis Lovett in Theatre Lovett's FRNKNSTN by Michael West. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Louis Lovett in Theatre Lovett's FRNKNSTN by Michael West. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Fionn Foley

Katy Hayes

Michael West has written a new version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for Theatre Lovett, corralling the themes of the novel into a 70-minute solo show about a man in the grip of psychosis. 2018 is the two hundredth anniversary of the book's first publication, and the two centuries since then have seen countless re-tellings of the story on stage and screen; we all have a version of the monster in our head.

West's contemporary spin is that Doctor Frankenstein, a former teenage prodigy with a PhD in Molecular Genetics, has created a clone of himself in order to study and cure a genetic condition which killed his beloved mother. Once created, this clone disgusts him and he turns his back on it. The clone-creature then goes on a killing rampage, and the police find Frankenstein's genetic fingerprints at the scenes of the crimes. Hence, he is incarcerated, and attempts to convince the audience of his innocence.

As West points out in the programme note, the use of the name Frankenstein for both the creature and the scientist has become common. In this version, the monster and the man are one. Maybe. The idea dips into that other classic of the 19th Century Gothic, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Clever set design by Ger Clancy includes a rectangle above the action that looks like a prison skylight, but is also a screen which gives an alternative perspective on the action. The dark, spare furnishings and setting create an excellent canvas for Sara Jane Shiels spectacular lighting, which ranges across an effective colour palette of blues, oranges and reds, as well as incorporating shapes and strobes. She creates a brilliant psychosis made of light. Composer and sound designer Dunk Murphy adds to this technical dissonance with fizzing electronic sounds and atmospheric music.

Louis Lovett as Frankenstein gives an impressive performance, deploying his mime skills and his ability with sounds to create an entire snowy landscape complete with wildlife, as well as capturing the psychic complexity of the disintegrating scientist. Director Muireann Ahern knits these performance ingenuities into the entire production, keeping the momentum high. The only off-note is struck at the beginning: Lovett does a bit of audience warm-up which doesn't feel right. Chumming up to the audience and making yourself likeable is the polar opposite of what is needed to create a Gothic atmosphere, and feels like a hangover from Theatre Lovett's children's shows. The actor then has to work hard to unwind this playfulness and generate proper tension.

West's script is clever and perceptive; it captures the essential self-delusion of a man who has the moral compass to understand his crimes but seeks to distance himself from them. It turns Mary Shelley's Gothic adventure into a fascinating psychological journey around the challenging landscape of a mad and guilty mind.

Stage whispers...

The Dublin Fringe Festival is almost upon us, and for those who like hard copy, its juicy brochure can be found around town, in places like Smock Alley Theatre or the Project Arts Centre. It is all online at

www.fringefest.com. Show in a Bag has been a feature since 2010. It is a scheme whereby theatre artists are supported to write or create their own work. Dramaturgical support is supplied by Fishamble: The New Play Company and producing support is provided by the Irish Theatre Institute. Big hits from previous years include Emmet Kirwan’s Dublin Oldschool and Sonya Kelly’s The Wheelchair on my Face — both these performers now have significant writing careers.

This year’s crop features John Connors with Ireland’s Call: a portrait of three young Dublin men, investigating what shapes them and draws them to a life of crime. Connors is a well-known face from Love/Hate and the hit independent Irish film, Cardboard Gangsters.

Lauren Larkin, who mightily impressed as a troublesome, pregnant roughsleeper in Druid’s recent new play, Shelter, has created a hairdresser in Split Ends. It is a show about the intimacies shared on a hairdresser’s chair.

Fionn.png
Fionn Foley

Fionn Foley (above), seen in TG4’s recent teen series Eipic, has Irish politics in his sights. Brendan Galileo for Europe is about an attempt to get elected to the European Parliament by first entering the Eurovision Song Contest.

Rising young acting talent Sarah-Jane Scott has created Appropriate, a play about a young woman who, in the first moment of clarity in her whole life, runs away from her own wedding. A funny tale of young love in rural Ireland and a lifelong quest to settle down.

So the women are writing about hairdressers and weddings, and the men are writing about crime and politics. What is this, 1950?

They run in Bewley’s Café Theatre from Sept 10–22.

Book it now...

1 HERO

Smock Alley Boys’ School, August 27–31

First seen last year in Theatre Upstairs, this one-man show written by Ken Rogan and performed by Daithí MacSuibhne portrays a testosterone-fuelled lad’s attempt to understand romance, set in an elegant bar. Directed by Amilia Stewart.

2 GOOD VIBRATIONS

Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Sept 1–30

Stage musical based on the recent popular film about the life and times of Terri Hooley, record shop owner and Belfast music legend. Northern Ireland punk classics from the 1970s celebrate an alternative Ulster, whilst the Troubles rage.

3 RIVERDANCE

Gaiety Theatre, Until Sept 9

The dancing juggernaut and perennial favourite has been in residence at the Gaiety for the summer. The next few weeks are the last chance for you and your foreign visitors to see it. It heads to Killarney’s INEC from September 12–16.

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