Frankenstein and pantomime are two words which should not go together, but in this brilliant mashup, they curiously do. It opens with energy - music, singing and dancing - and sustains this throughout with fast paced story-telling, even though, as they regularly remind us, they only have an hour.
A remarkably well thought out and richly written piece
True to the original book by Mary Shelley, it starts with a boat rescuing Victor Frankenstein from the sea, where he starts telling the Captain his story after a very funny opening number which sets the tone for the show. The discussion between them is fairly true to the novel until Victor mentions that he was in his apartment in Geneva. The Captain argues it should be a spooky castle instead as that would be much more entertaining and dramatic.
There are nods to many previous film versions of this classic: we are introduced to Igor Not-in-the-Book followed by Mrs F, Victor’s mother: a larger-than-life panto dame. They joke that neither of them are in the book and this adds to the fun. The way Mrs F changes the appearance of Igor into the one more associated with that character is gloriously slapstick and funny.
The odd thing about this show is that it is perhaps truer to the novel than many subsequent famous and infamous re-tellings on stage and film. They frequently reference the book in a variety of humorous ways and this is both refreshing and very clever. They even mention occasions on which it makes no sense: the travelling between places apparently next door to each other, when in reality they are hundreds of miles apart. There is also a lovely section where the Monster learns English by learning the words 'dog', 'cat' and 'Prometheus' which both a lovely tribute to the subtitle of the original - A Modern Prometheus - as well as gently making fun of the fact that all of the language learning takes only three words.
The set is simply classic Fringe: mainly painted boxes and moving flats which double up as everything needed throughout the tale. What sets this apart from ordinary is the intelligent and very funny writing of Neil Jennings, who also plays Mrs F; and Chris Smart who also directs. The five actors play a wide variety of instruments exceptionally well and their voices are pitch perfect and strong. They also manage some amazing harmonies, and the lyrics have been beautifully adapted to well-known songs. For example, the Monster sings 'I’m not a woman, I’m not a man' to the tune of I’m Every Woman when trying to self-analyse. The stand-up routine of bad jokes is the least successful component but the rest of the humour really works. There is plenty of encouraged audience participation, as you would expect, and when things don’t go quite to plan, as you would hope in a panto, it’s even funnier.
This is a remarkably well thought out and richly written piece. Of course in panto the characters are always larger than life, and with this gothic horror it strangely works, helped along by a wonderfully talented team-playing cast.