Monster of a play marred by sound

Frankenstein Royal Exchange, Manchester

Friday, 16th March 2018, 10:52 am
Updated Friday, 16th March 2018, 10:55 am
Shane Zaza as Victor Frankenstein
Shane Zaza as Victor Frankenstein

It’s the 200th birthday of fiction’s most famous man-made monster and the Exchange gets in early on the celebrations lined up by several venues this year.

A new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, by April de Angelis, sticks assuredly to the original plot, and with a main cast of only eight serves up 20 of the main characters, aided by a further five ensemble players.

The Exchange marshals its full armoury of elemental stage effects with rain, fire, smoke and lighting used proficiently, but sparingly. In the spare-part stage creation of Frankenstein’s creature there can sometimes be a temptation to go for gory.

Shame, therefore, that there was not the same economy exercised on Mark Melville’s sound design, an incessant and often overpowering backdrop throughout.

It’s a spare part soundscape with howling gales, drawing room muzak, thunder claps or just low-level electronica when nothing else suits.

Using sound signatures to occasionally denote a change of setting can be effective, especially for a story that moves so quickly and through so many locations. But used constantly it too often obscures the actors’ voices.

It’s an unfair fight here for a cast where one or two already struggle to project, even around the Exchange’s intimate space.

Shane Zaza, in the title role, conveys something of the scientific arrogance of a man intent on creating life, but somehow loath to accept the ethical consequences.

Given a second chance you can’t help thinking that next time round he might have chosen to create a less garrulous ghoul, for his Creature (Harry Atwell) seems as intent on talking his Master to death, or at least having the last word, in this very literary adaptation.

Pity then, poor Captain Walton (Ryan Gage), trapped in the polar ice and then largely frozen to a chair throughout the production after so admirably performing the framing device that introduces the story.

Frankenstein continues until April 14.

David Upton