Here in East Finchley we are lucky enough to live a few minutes walk away from one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in the country. The Phoenix dates from 1910, and is a local landmark which we love to visit.
Not so long ago they started showing screenings of theatre plays as well – which is great for those of us who couldn’t get tickets for when the plays were on in the West End. Earlier this year, we went to see The Audience (the one about the Queen’s weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, with the incomparable Helen Mirren as the Queen).
This week, as part of the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the Phoenix showed Frankenstein, Danny Boyle’s 2011 production of Nick Dear’s play (itself based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel).
It starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, two actors at the top of their game who alternated between playing Victor Frankenstein and the Creature (one presumes they shied away from calling him the Monster as a result of the old A-level English Lit argument that the real monster of the piece is Victor for thinking he can play God). The version we saw had Cumberbatch as Victor and Miller as the Creature.
The production was sensational. I liked how it closely mirrored the novel – albeit without the introductory stuff about Captain Walton and how Victor’s childhood fascination with science led him to make a sentient being; instead, the play starts with the Creature’s ‘birth’. Johnny Lee Miller gave much pathos to a character that I’ve always felt has been short-changed by the popular Boris-Karloff-with-a-bolt-through-his-neck image of Frankenstein’s monster; this version, by contrast, can quote Milton. Cumberbatch was equally good as the medical student who gets carried away with his unorthodox experiment and is subsequently torn apart by guilt, despair and regret for what he has done.
Despite having been written nearly 200 years ago, Frankenstein remains highly relevant today – what with the advances of modern science in recent decades it still serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking things too far. This stage adaptation was an incredibly well-acted play which also serves as a great advert for modern British theatre. If they sold the screenings on DVD, I’d buy it.