The National Theatre’s YouTube channel is showing Frankenstein. There are two versions: Benedict Cumberbatch is the monster and Jonny Lee Miller is Frankenstein. In the other version, they switch roles. The two Sherlocks.
The play is a steampunk lover’s dream – costumes and set design. Acting is brilliant, of course. It’s a two-hour play and the monster owns the entire first hour. Except for a very brief appearance near the beginning, Victor Frankenstein does not really appear until hour two. This play truly belongs to the monster.
I’m not as familiar with Cumberbatch in other roles, so I don’t know what he brought with him. Miller has certain mannerisms that I’ve seen him use in a few roles, so I wondered if he would dampen them for the monster. The mannerisms worked for Frankenstein, just as they did for him when he played Sherlock Holmes – geniuses who know it and have disdain for most of humanity.
Miller noted in his IG that the monster is naked at the start of the play. For the recorded version they had to wear a loincloth so that it could be shown to American audiences. Pity.
I confess to a strong bias (I never understood the Cumberbatch love), but I like better what Miller did with each character. He brought more humanity to the monster and less humanity to Frankenstein than Cumberbatch did.
During certain scenes, I went back to the other version and then compared the two just to watch close-up the different choices that each actor made. The staging was slightly different – in some cases, I think because Cumberbatch is taller is Miller and they needed the monster to tower over Frankenstein. Miller did bring his usual mannerisms to the monster. They worked well for Frankenstein and he managed to incorporate them for the monster in a way that worked also. I noticed Cumberbatch had some mannerisms that he used for both characters and, like Miller, he made them work for each in a different way.
Both versions are wonderful and brilliantly done. You care about the monster and you shudder at Frankenstein’s pride, which brings him his ruin.
A huge shout-out to the make-up people, who managed to hide all of Miller’s tattoos. That was amazing.
These are only around for the week, please try to see at least one of them, if not both.
By Carene Lydia Lopez