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I'm still a bit stunned, nearly three hours after the lights came up at the end of National Theatre Live's production of Frankenstein.

So let me ease into it. It's filmed live during the stage performance in London and delayed some unspecified time for viewing in various places around the world. The filming is a separate production in itself, with cameras positioned to capture angles that the live audience isn't privy to (directly overhead, for instance, and close-ups of the actor's faces), and the whole thing has been edited together to direct the viewer's gaze in certain ways.

So while it retains much of the power of a live performance (actors sweating, audible audience responses, and a theatrical pace), it sits simultaneously in a cinematic niche--filmed, edited, projected on a movie screen, watched in a darkened cinema). An interesting hybrid.

It was an astonishing play. [personal profile] ruric has written a wonderful review of the production overall from her enviable perspective in the real-live audience in real-live London. They saw the Benedict-Cumberbatch-as-Creature, Jonny-Lee-Miller-as-Frankenstein edition, and I can't recommend the review highly enough if this is a play you're interested in.

I saw Benedict-as-Frankenstein and Jonny-as-Creature, and indeed, as [personal profile] ruric mentions, this is the casting that is more to type. I would love to see the against-type casting of the reverse version, and perhaps someday it will be available.

The physical production--the sets, the lighting, the sound, and the general staging--are all remarkable. There is a gorgeous mass of light overhead, hundreds of incandescent bulbs hung one by one in a huge array and controlled--brighter, dimmer, flashing, sparkling, shimmering--to coincide with sound effects and suggest the constant overhanging presence of the electricity which was not quite yet under human control in Mary Shelley's time, but which, of course, animates the story and its central figure.

I want to talk about the beautiful stage floor, marked out in not-quite parallel lines suggesting, by turns, floorboard, walkways, a deep lake, graves, rails, the sea, the tundra--but I don't know how to talk about the mechanics of it. It was an amazing piece of design.

And I want to talk about the choreography--the bizarre appearance of a steampunk train-like vehicle that rolls onto the stage under the power of a chorus of actors who sing through trumpets and turn cogged wheels in time to a rhythm, all to convey the "mind of metal and wheels" that the creature encounters as his first experience of life. But my theatrical vocabulary is too limited.

So let me talk about Jonny Lee Miller. I don't know his work at all and had no notion of what to expect. He is an extremely physical actor, solid and muscular (which is very, very evident in the first scene where he is almost entirely naked (he and the female creature both wear a minimal breech-clout sort of wrapping of rags, presumably for the benefit of the worldwide audience *coughPrudishAmericanscough*)). He writhes to life in a long and agonizing series of struggles to stand, and while I didn't time this sequence any more than [personal profile] ruric did, it takes at least the first ten minutes of the play.

Miller conveys both pain and joy in the birth of the creature, and his triumph in finally rising to his feet makes all that ensues even more poignant. Frankenstein comes in, discovers his creature to be alive, freaks out, and runs away in the most craven fashion imaginable, and we don't get another glimpse of Benedict for a very long while.

Oh! I want to tell you all about it! About the time the creature spends with the blind old man, learning to read, to think, to reason, and to be philosophical. About his inevitable rejection at the hands of the old man's family when they finally see his hideously scarred and botched face. About the way Jonny Lee Miller gradually, gradually grows more human and more civilized in his movements and speech, while never quite getting there, and about how he rages and drools and roars and staggers, and still conveys a greater nobility than the "real" humans around him.

I want to tell you about Benedict Cumberbatch in neckcloth and waistcoat and long coat, being as cold as Sherlock--and often just as funny. There's no doubt that the Creature is the juicier role, and I really wish I had bought tickets to the showing with the reverse casting, but watching Bendy be dispassionate, and more dispassionate, and still more dispassionate until at last the Creature gives him sufficient cause for passion--well, it was a wonderful piece of acting.

And I would love to say more about Nick Dear's brilliant script, which elucidates all the great questions Mary Shelley implied in her novel about what it is to be human, to be alive, to love, to have memories--and all the ones about the relationship between man and god, about science, about hubris--but I'm still too stunned.

If you can see it, do. It's amazing.

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