In 2005 Jane Jessop founded Blue Apple Theatre company for her son Tommy Jessop. As an actor with downs syndrome finding acting roles was a struggle. He made history when he became the first professional actor with downs syndrome to play Hamlet and many readers will recognise from his latest BBC role of Trever In the Line of Duty. Blue Apple is a company for actors with a range of learning disabilities, having gone from strength to strength over the years, producing some extremely high quality and challenging productions.
Their latest production Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is no exception to this and exhibits the talent and professionalism that this company never fail to produce and bring to the stage.
Using live actors, puppetry and recorded discussion to explore the lady behind the famous gothic novel and her lineage as well as the famous story unfolding on stage offered the audience more of a humanitarian viewpoint into the creation of Frankenstein. Their informed and open discussion about whether this story was about nature or nurture was fascinating.
James Benfield takes on the role of the famous monster’s creator Dr Victor Frankenstein, accompanied by his friend and wife Elizabeth (Katy Francis). With brilliant performances from other familiar cast members joining them on stage was Sam Dace as Henry, Lawrie Morris, and Ros Davies in the role of Victor’s mother and father and Anna Brisbane as Justine.
The creation of the monster took the form of a half oversized human torso with arms, worked on stage by cast members in Warhorse style animation. The wicker styled creation broke down into pieces to enable Victor to construct the monster on stage allowing the audience to suspend their disbelief and witness the birth of Frankenstein’s monster. For regular Blue Apple Theatre followers, the familiar tones from Tommy Jessop could be heard as he took on the role of performing the sinister and domineering voice.
Producing any theatre production in the current restrictions is challenging. However, ensuring as many cast members as possible participated in this production the recorded discussions allowed for as many actors to be included as possible.
The live performance held in Theatre Royal Winchester had been set out in a covid safe environment. It was nice to see James Elsworthy, one of Blue Apple’s actors working front of house in Theatre Royal meeting and greeting audience members, maybe a new career path for this valued and respected long-standing performer.
When it comes to removing barriers and not being defeated by restrictions Blue Apple are always ready to rise to the challenge. Artistic director Richard Conlon and the whole production team have produced another first-class play with the wonderful actors in the Blue Apple Theatre company. If you have never seen any of their work please check them out.