'Frankenstein' monstrously good.


When I was in my late teens, I was living in England and, through my school, had ample opportunity to attend theaters in London. One night, for a class on Shakespeare's kings, we attended the National Theatre's production of "Richard III," starring Ian McKellan. It was an entrancing production - indeed, the one they later based McKellan's film version on - made more so by the sheer presence of the theater itself, the sense of grandeur, of being able to be so close to such a splendid performance, to see great actors up close, with your own eyes. There was an energy in the packed house, a shared excitement that reverberated through the packed house, climaxing in thunderous applause at the end.

The theater at the Blackstone Valley 14: Cinema De Lux in Millbury wasn't particularly crowded for Wednesday night's cinematic screening of the National Theatre's production of "Frankenstein," and what audience that was there largely comprised fans of the new BBC series, "Sherlock," which stars English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as a modernized Sherlock Holmes. (The show plays in the U.S. as part of PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery" series.) One could tell from the ambient chatter before the show that most in attendance were there to see Cumberbatch's turn as Frankenstein's creature. And they were not disappointed.

The play - recorded in England and presented here by Fathom Events - begins with the creature coming to life. Most viewers probably have the most famous film version of this in their heads - the flash of lightning, the creature rising stiff and straight-backed from the table, moaning demonically while the mad scientist shouts, "IT'S ALIVE!"

Here, the viewers are treated to a hypnotically awkward sort of interpretive dance, as Cumberbatch's creature flops and staggers, learning to use his body. There's a sort of ballet to the whole thing, the way Cumberbatch makes each movement seem clumsy and unbalanced, while still moving with a sort of unnatural grace, the whole thing becoming more and more entrancing as the creature, gradually, learns to walk.

Cumberbatch's movements are spectacular, but really, it's the way he communicates the creature's constant process of learning that's most arresting, the way he portrays the monstrous, abandoned thing - his creator, Victor Von Frankenstein, having fled in terror at the sight of him - learning at a breakneck clip. The creature, over the course of a year, learns to speak and read...

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