This is getting ridiculous. Seriously. How can one man be so talented?
So yeah. I watched Frankenstein earlier this evening – with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein. And I am blown away. Absolutely blown away.

First off, I have to say that I’m not exactly a fan of theater. I love musicals, but not the classic, speech-only theater. Nevertheless was it tempting to watch Benedict (and Jonny), and it was a good way to finally see Frankenstein, a story I’ve been interested in for a while, but never got around to have a closer look at except for reading the Wikipedia article.
Admittedly, I thought that the beginning was a bit drawn out. The “birth” of the creature was interesting, however, got a bit awkward (for the lack of a better word) after several minutes. I think that could have been a tad shorter. Not that I don’t think Benedict did a marvelous job with it, because he did. Nevertheless I wasn’t all that sure if I should be amazed, alienated, appalled , amused, or anything in between.
From there, it was definitely amazed, a bit amused (there were funny moments, after all), and also a lot… touched, moved. Being someone always working in their mind with what they know, I had to think of the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera; a repelled man himself, alas not as bad probably, because at least he could cover the part that scared people and was capable of a rather “normal” demeanor, whereas the Creature does have this problem that he acts a bit like mentally disabled, like someone after a stroke, for example. He is still fully functional, especially his brain is, and he understands what happens around him – which makes it only worse. All he ever knew was rejection, and of course violence directed at him, and that is what he learned for himself to use as well towards others. this is exactly what happens when you neglect a child, don’t give them love and warmth. You might seek what you believe has to be there, what you maybe have seen in others, but as long as you don’t receive it yourself, you will never properly learn to give it as well. Emotions are not that different from material things in that regard – you can only give away what you have, or what you’ve once gotten and acquired.
But back to the play. Casting Benedict and Jonny sure was a genius move. Those two work together brilliantly, especially that first scene when they meet (or the second, to be precise – the one in the mountains) had me forget to breathe because I was afraid I could miss something. Jonny showed that inner conflict of Victor perfectly, the lunacy his science drove him into, and how he was caught between being “God” (even if he didn’t believe in any deity) and having created a monster. I couldn’t decide who of these two is more conflicted, but Jonny really was incredible in his portrayal of Victor.
Of course, though, I went mostly because of Ben. At first I was disappointed when I read he’d be the creature, as I’d hoped for him to be Frankenstein, but now I’m VERY happy I had Ben as Creature, because oh my God, this was extraordinary. This was so different from everything I’d seen Ben in so far, and it was just… wow. I’m running out of words of praise – and adjectives. Funny thing is, I knew he was brilliant when I saw the play, and that’s how I perceived him. But only in the end, during curtain call, I realized how much this was not Benedict, or anything of Ben I’ve seen so far, but completely different. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just… he was another person. But in a way like I’ve never seen it before. So far, despite Ben’s incredible talent, there’s always been something that is just him; something you’ll recognize him by. Just tiny things, but they are there. As Creature, he was someone, or something, entirely else. He was broken and frightening and pitiful and surprising and lovable and oh so special. He was this Creature, down to the core of its (his) being, the human desires and wistful longings, the un-human cruelty, evilness almost, even though at the same time the heartbreaking lonely soul who can’t be held responsible because he doesn’t know better. He was scary, yes, but in the end all I wanted was to go to him and give him a hug, because through all the terrible things he did, there was still good in him, and Ben kept this balance with remarkable skill and patience throughout the whole play.
The play, the story, is something that still today is important because it shows us how society is. If you have any physical deformations, people will look at you, point at you, ignore and avoid you. It is less likely that you’ll be beaten and abused – though even that can happen – but surely you’ll get your share of psychological abuse. And that is really a sad thing to think about.
Look at the old man – he was blind, he didn’t see the Creature, so he just went by ears and gut feeling. He knew that what he recognized as a man because he wasn’t stopped by a hull before he could look any deeper wasn’t bad. The scenes between them were very lovely and heartwarming, and it was a delight to watch them. And then come the son and his wife, and for a moment there I was hoping they could accept the Creature, but of course, as they could see, they decided to not see.
And then there was Elizabeth, wonderfully played, absolutely believable in her fear, but also curiosity (we saw that before when she wanted to go with Victor to England; I believe part of it was a longing to learn, and not just her hope to be with her husband-to-be), and her deeply rooted faith in the good of every person, every human being, because that’s what the Creature is. I don’t think the thought he would hurt her; the moment she was assured of his good intentions, she really believed in them, fully and without any suspicion. I do wonder if she understood – or would have, had she survived – why he, ultimately, betrayed her trust and the friendship she offered.
To sum it up, this was worth every penny, a grandiose play with amazing actors, most notably of course Benedict, who was the most important and most present role here, but also Jonny, who was a wonderful counteract. I’d love to see it again, and I hope that they maybe decide to release a DVD, after all, because I would definitely buy this one.
A few words on the production/recording:
There were some shots where Jonny was slightly blurred, which, as a trained camera operator, irritated me. As did the bird view shots, the ones from directly above. This is kinda irritating, as it is something you’d never see in the theater – it’s a perspective you wouldn’t have when sitting in the auditorium, so I don’t know if that was a decision I would have made because it can be confusing, since the brain is expecting to see a theater play, not a movie.
Another thing that irritated me was the choice of the other actors – mostly the Frankenstein Sr. No doubt was he a great actor and did a fantastic job – but my rudimentary biology/genetics knowledge couldn’t help but protest at the idea of casting a black (not meant to be political incorrect or offending) actor as father of white actors. Same goes, basically, for Elizabeth, but here it still works, since she is only the cousin. Also, not sure you would have seen black people in that time the story is set…
I know one should ignore that, and I really don’t mind who is cast as long as they are great (and they all were), it’s just that there’s one part of me that will always be irritated when the basic picture of the whole thing lacks logic because of this. (But then is the whole thing set in Germany, where no one should speak English… yeah. You see where this is going. I have this naughty little voice that is ubercorrect because it’s German. Damn it.)

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Tags: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, NT Frankenstein, NT Live