Frankenstein is one of the most-told works of classic literature. On this blog we’ve reviewed the Boris Karloff version, a Christopher Lee version, the Gene Wilder/Mel Brooks version and even Frankenhooker, and now we bring you the ballet version.
While this performance deviates substantially from Mary Shelley’s original tale, re-framing it as a Shakespearean tragedy centring on Frankenstein’s (Federico Bonelli) wedding to Elizabeth (Laura Morera), it’s the first adaptation I’ve seen to truly capture its essence.
One of my usual bugbears with adaptations of Frankenstein is that, in spite of some of them being brilliant, the creature is usually portrayed as a mindless monster rather than the reflective, kind but tortured soul of the original story. Here this is captured brilliantly with Steven McRae playing the creature with a great deal of humanity. This is a relief because the mindless rampages we associate with the character don’t necessarily lend themselves to the gracefulness of ballet.
The creature is a reconstructed corpse, but the lumbering movements we associate with Boris Karloff are replaced with anguished writhing which is somehow beautiful at the same time. Bonelli and Morera are equally excellent as outcast Frankenstein and his childhood love, as are the rest of the cast. It’s a testament to choreographer Liam Scarlett (this is his first full-length ballet) that he’s able to balance the elements of horror, science fiction and dance with such refinement.
The music, composed by Lowell Libermann and conducted by Barry Wordsworth, begins like an old Hollywood score which wouldn’t be out of place in a film from the 1950s, but by the end it shifts to a Tchaikovskian romantic sound which sweeps the dancers through the finale. The phenomenal staging captures the weird world of 19th century science in a highly atmospheric way, and invokes the novel’s mountain setting.
What results is a beautiful, dramatic and moving adaptation of the classic story which is certainly the most faithful rendition I’ve ever seen.
Frankenstein is playing at the Royal Opera House until 23 March.