THE RABBLE Theatre Company has reimagined Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein where both the scientist, Victor Frankenstein and his monster are both women. Shelly’s novel is spooky enough, but the company’s take on this classic ensures its questions regarding humanity and the preciousness of life and relationships are still there but, with some clever and outrageous staging, these themes plus more are conveyed boldly and light is shone into the dark corners of our humanity. This performance is confronting and provocative, be warned!
The performance space was walled in on three sides by a deceivingly warm citrus colour and was Victor’s laboratory. The floor was covered with small water-filled black balloons representing sort of cell-like or embryonic sacks. At first glance they looked to me like elephant dung strewn across the stage minus the stench, my expectations that anything is possible with this company perhaps fuelling my imagination. It was a hoot watching the actors in their oversized gumboots navigating their way around the space. There were 4 microphones hung from the ceiling, a trademark of this company. A black plastic wading pool took pride and place with hose at the ready. The upstage left corner hung a large and bulbous black sack, which later would serve as a whale’s mouth and then an artificial womb.
By casting Victor Frankenstein (Mary Helen Sassman) and the monster (Jane Montgomery Griffiths) as women, the performance gives a new perspective to the 1816 horror story and explores the themes of motherhood and parenting. After giving birth by using her artificial womb, Frankenstein rejects her offspring and keeps the monster locked up. Ugliness and beauty collide, the beauty of conceiving and beating her biological clock (as Frankenstein explains earlier on “my uterus screamed give me a baby”) is contrasted with the coldness of locking her monstrous creation up in her orange laboratory when women are expected to be the ones who nurture. Montgomery Griffiths’ monster is naked from the waist down and her torso is a mass of what resembles a collection of overblown cow’s teats. I felt very uneasy watching Montgomery Griffiths writhing around, her body grinding over the carpet of black water balloons with all the squelching and popping. It was touching to watch the Monster’s will to survive and communicate with its sister (Frankenstein’s adopted and blind daughter played by Emily Milledge). The Monster’s monologues took words from many sources – from the novel itself and also from Shelly’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, his touching poem Love’s Philosophy. “Nothing in the world is single; / All things by a law divine / In one spirit meet and mingle. / Why not I with thine?” Unlike the original Monster who desired friendship, this monster, like her mother, wanted to procreate. Into the mix comes Frankenstein’s brother (David Paterson) who serves, among many things, as a destructive masculine force within the feminine circle he finds himself. His penetrative actions and incestuous tendencies all causing discomfort within the audience.
The overriding symbol of water served to unify this performance. The theme of dealing with the nightmares and joys of creating life was its core construct. There were sub-symbols of seawater, embryonic fluid and blood throughout. Sassman was a cool operator on stage. Her Frankenstein’s determination to be heard, to get what she wants and to deal with whatever life served up, was powerful. Her black 1970s jumpsuit was suitably sassy and her dancing cum boxing scenes were energetic and quirky. Her focus on stage is always so mesmerizing.
At times, scenes could have been shortened by a minute or thereabouts. It was also curious that it was a string of profanities that were uttered by both the Monster and the adopted daughter to indicate their attempt to create rapport between themselves. Could there have been other means to show the line of communication between the two rather than the shock value of the swear words. It was the only thing that I thought was a bit cliché in the production.
This piece created by Emma Valente and Kate Davis is ingenious. THE RABBLE maintains its position on the Melbourne theatre scene as a group whose theatrical surprises and innovations transform audiences and encourage them to actually think. Dana Miltins’ monologue at the productions end was a jolt of naturalistic acting that worked well to bring all the madness of the hour and 40mins to a close.