A cornerstone of gothic fiction and arguably the birthplace of one of the most recognisable horror characters of our time, Frankenstein has spurned dozens of adaptations since Mary Shelley penned it as a teenager.

The most recent take on the strange and moving tale is Lally Katz’s Frankenstein. Originally staged at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008, the production has been programmed at Theatreworks and directed by Phil Rouse. It is quite a faithful adaptation; one which casts Victor Frankenstein’s creature as a naïve, joyful young woman, and the Doctor himself as a slobby, self-important man-boy. The play is divided into short scenes that roughly follow the chapters of Shelley’s novel, though Katz makes it her own by peppering the show with forays into 80s and 90s pop culture. There are dances, songs, disco, and kitsch. So much, so much kitsch.

While it attempts to be a fun and boppy re-vamping of Frankenstein, it is a production which doesn’t really feel like it knows what its doing. The 80s world is often cute and sometimes silly, but the script sets up ideas that it never really explores. The gender reversal of the Creature, for example, is a choice that could have been made incredibly poignant and political, without bashing people over the head with it. Instead the political ideas that might have been felt lost amongst the neon and big hair. Such a production leaves you wondering why the show has been programmed now, particularly so soon after The Rabble’s brilliant adaptation of Frankenstein in 2014, which set the story amongst a disturbing laboratory of maternity and femininity.

Despite all this, there are poignant moments. Frankenstein’s Monster learns language by imitating the Australian bush’s birdsong, and learns about sex and socialising from a rather chatty rabbit. There are songs which, while never fully mined for their potential, have moments of emotional resonance. The actors’ (Chantelle Jamieson and Michael McStay) performances are suitably heightened, and they commit fully to the slightly mad world which they inhabit, designed well by Martelle Hunt. Rouse’s direction if solid, if a little floundering within an uncertain script.

It’s a bit of a mystery why this Frankenstein has been brought back to the stage, but it is an original and suitably strange adaptation of Shelley’s novel. While its political and emotional potential are left relatively unexplored in this production, it offers a fun enough night in the theatre if you are happy to sit back and let the zaniness wash over you.

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