Thank you, Fathom Events, for making it possible to see the National Theatre International broadcast of the play Frankenstein. The play starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who alternated the roles of The Monster and The Scientist every other night. There are excellent reasons for this practice that you can see explained if you research the play and its writer, Nick Dear, online. There you’ll find discussions about the challenges the distinguished British company faced in preparing and presenting this play, and doing justice to Mary Shelley’s novel. On the evening I saw the play in a Nashville theater, Cumberbatch was starring as The Monster.
The play is the result of the efforts of highly trained, highly creative, and deadly serious actors, writers, and a host of others who were intent on showing us, the audience, that the old story of Frankenstein can have new meaning. It was a real delight that I had not experienced for too long being engaged with a play again, even though it was photographed and not on a stage with the live actors “in the room.” Most of us going to see this play or other Fathom Events would never be able to see them as audiences watching the live action on stage. Even though we were watching a filmed performance, the unrolling of the story was so absorbing I didn’t even want to look away from the screen. The story was presented in a new way while remaining true in all important respects to the novel and what Shelley was telling her readers. The theater-goer is shocked into a heightened awareness of Shelley’s conception of man and monsters too. In the story, she is saying that man and monster are alike. The playwright Nick Dear opened up the novel into a play that affects all of us and makes us think about what we’ve seen in the play and in the world. I wish that I could have gone to the National Theatre to see it presented, where I could have experienced the actors at fairly close range using all their powers of magic and stagecraft to open our eyes to the truths presented. I also wish I could then have gone straight to a discussion group elsewhere in that famous complex and hear what everyone else had to say. The way it was presented, using new stage technology, opened my eyes, and I remember vividly, for instance, the birth of The Monster and the fabulous train representing new technology chugging into the scene. When you go to see the play, you will be called upon to accept things you have probably never imagined about the old story, and you will find yourself changed permanently as you think about what you have seen and the ways in which the theater, that ancient institution, has changed in putting on plays. I urge everyone reading this to see the play. The Fathom Events web site can show you where it is being presented as well as the other riches of its other offerings.