Review: Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein, at Underbelly Bristo Square

Manual Cinema explore grief, love, and the creative urge, in a beautifully cinematic rendition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, unlike any other. 


The experience begins on entry to the auditorium. The stage is a marvel of costumed performers, fantastic instruments, and an almost steampunk collection of machinery, lamps, and monitors. High above hangs the screen upon which movie magic awaits creation. If you do plan on a front seat ticket, I would recommend a neck pillow to appease your vertebrae. 

Fortunately, the skill of the ensemble in using such diverse apparatus becomes swiftly evident when the performance begins. Through a dance of shadow puppetry, musicianship, and acting, the story of Frankenstein is brought to life, fused with the biography of its author. The quality of both on-screen and on-stage production is unmistakable. The sheer, artistic beauty of the whole experience is a wonder to behold.

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein – photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Sarah Fornace (co-creator with Drew Dir, and Julia VanArsdale Miller), playing both Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley, is particularly superb.

Now, without question, the narrative is ambitious, trying not only to re-tell Frankenstein, but also to interrogate the personal tragedies of Shelley herself as the soil from which the story sprang.

Mary is certainly lovingly created, and easy to emotionally invest in. The monstrous tale, however, while often both awesome and moving, never quite achieves the dread which inhabits the source text. Accordingly, the original score (by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman), played live, and in remarkable sync with the action swirling around the four musicians responsible, whilst certainly atmospheric, remains restrained. 

Nonetheless, Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein remains a truly marvellous experience, and one I am more than happy to recommend for your considerations. You’ll see nothing else like it, on this scale, nor delivered with such arch-professionalism. A flawed wonder, remains a wonder nonetheless.

Frankenstein is playing at Underbelly Bristo Square from until 26th August 2019 (not 12th), at 14:45. Tickets can be booked here.

Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise” – Les Misérables

We are living in a difficult time, but it will pass, and I look forward to enjoying the theatre with you when it does. Stay safe, and remember to sing La Vie Bohème to yourself every time you wash your hands. Start to finish, please.

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