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Theatre / Frankenstein (2011)

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"Mom said it's my turn to be Victor Frankenstein!"

A 2011 play by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, alternating night-by-night in their roles as Frankenstein and the Creature. Scored with dark electronic ambient by the band Underworld.

Forget your old Frankenstein, starting with the Mad Scientist mixing up bubbling potions on a midnight dreary, and using a lightning strike to animate a groaning, inarticulate hulk. No. When the stage lights up, there is a womb-like structure suspended far to one side... and the audience glimpses a man moving within it. The womb bursts open, and a monstrous-looking man staggers out — onto to fall onto the floor, wailing and weeping like a helpless newborn. The show continues to follow this nameless Creature's development and exploration of the world... sensations as delightful as rainfall and as hateful as fear, the potential of other people, and his own capacities for knowledge, wonder, and destruction. Eventually, the play is shaped by his quest to find the man who made him, and ask one driving question: Why did he make the Creature, only to abandon him? Why?


This stage production has the examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The play does away with the Framing Device with Captain Walton from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and focuses on the relationship between Victor and the Creature. It also keeps Victor's age correct, and like the novel, leaves how he brought the Creature to life vague. It's probably the truest adaptation of Shelley's novel. The major things omitted besides Walton, are Victor's time at the University and Justine the maid who ends framed and killed for William's death.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: The Creature here is bald and covered in livid sutures.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Perhaps because this version is told primarily from the Creature's point of view, Victor is more of a jerk than he was in the novel, and most of his redeeming qualities are left out.
    • The Creature here also commits two heinous deeds which were not in the novel: burning the cottage with the innocent De Lacey and his family inside after the latter rejected him, and raping Elizabeth.
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  • Adapted Out: Captain Robert Walton is nowhere to be found. Nor are Professors Waldman and Kempe, or Victor's friend Henry Clerval, or the maid Justine,
  • Altar the Speed: After breaking his promise and hearing the Creature's subsequent threats, Frankenstein is suddenly very, very keen to marry Elizabeth as soon as possible. It doesn't help.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Invoked Trope. Befitting the fact that the two leads swap roles each night. Cumberbatch's Victor is aloof and arrogant, while his Creature is prone to being a Large Ham. Miller's Victor is much more of a manic Mad Scientist and his Creature is much more down to earth.
    • Miller drew inspiration for his Creature from his own children, while Cumberbatch looked at stroke victims.
  • Ambiguous Ending: In the novel Victor is dead and the Creature intends to commit suicide imminently. In this version, at the ending Victor is near death, but the Creature is leading him on further towards the Pole, and may still live...
  • Analogy Backfire: Henry points out Victor's self-applied "Modern Prometheus" moniker isn't that impressive considering the original Prometheus suffered A Fate Worse Than Death for his experiments.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Depends on who you think the antagonist is...
  • Artificial Human: This aspect of the Creature is emphasised more than its undead nature, as it is indeed born from an artificual womb of sorts.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Guaranteed to make the audience gasp aloud, and definitely not Played for Laughs.
  • Bowdlerise: When streamed on Youtube during the Covid-19 crisis, the scene where the Creature rapes and murders Elizabeth was removed entirely.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Creature keeps telling De Lacey that Felix and Agatha would drive him away because of his deformities if they ever saw. De Lacey insists they are good people who would overlook that. De Lacey learns the truth the hard way.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Cumberbatch's Creature delivers the "This is your universe, Frankenstein" in a very over the top way, enunciating every syllable in the scientists name. Miller's delivery of the same line is more pointed and subdued.
  • Color Blind Casting: Victor's father and Elizabeth are both played by black actors. Victor's little brother, William, is played by two young boys in different performances, one of whom is black and the other is white.
  • Coup de Grâce: Poor Elisabeth.
  • Cradling Your Kill: When the Creature thinks Frankenstein is dead, finally run down by his long, long chase.
  • Death by Adaptation: The De Lacey family. The Creature sets their hut on fire as vengeance for casting him out (even the old man).
  • Death Equals Emotion: In the Arctic, a dying Frankenstein admits that he threw away every chance he had for love.
  • Death Is Such an Odd Thing: "Master, what is it like to die? Can I die? How long does death last?"
  • Defiant to the End: Frankenstein.
  • Disabled in the Adaptation: The Creature is far more physically awkward and unrefined than in the novel, though still capable of great strength and feats. In both interpretations it talks and moves similarly to a stroke victim relearning how to do so, although this is emphasised more in Cumberbatch's Creature.note 
  • Don't Look at Me!: The Creature to William, knowing how people react to him.
  • Dramatic Thunder: It wouldn't be Frankenstein without it.
  • Due to the Dead: M. Frankenstein is horrified that Frankenstein has been mountain climbing and is now leaving the country before his brother can even be buried.
  • Erotic Dream: The Creature dreams of a female like himself.
    De Lacey: It was a good dream, then?
    The Creature: It was pleasing, yes.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Frankenstein finds the Creature living on the glaciers, the only place he isn't hounded from; later, they both journy to the Arctic Circle.
  • Exposed to the Elements: The Creature wears an open shirt and waistcoat, ragged trousers and no shoes in the Arctic, while Frankenstein wears a fur-lined seal-skin suit with hood. gloves and boots.
  • Expy: Cumberbatch's Victor feels like a Regency era Sherlock.
  • Fire Is Red: Lighting to indicate the burning building.
  • First Snow: The Creature has a childlike delight in the first snowfall he experiences, and keeps sneaking away from his lessons with de Lacey to play in it.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: There was a giant bell above the stalls for this effect.
  • For Science!: Frankenstein's justification to the Creature.
  • Get Out!: Frankenstein to the servant.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: How Frankenstein describes his experiment to Elizabeth.
  • Grave Robbing: How Frankenstein gets the material to make the female Creature. Even the Creature is disgusted.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Beginning and ending the play.
  • I Am What I Am: The Creature, in a downright heartbreaking scene.
    I am different. I have tried to be the same, but I am different.
  • I Come in Peace: Subverted, rather horribly, when the Creature meets Elizabeth.
  • I Lied: The Creature to Elisabeth.
  • It's Personal: Invoked by the Creature, as he desperately wants to talk to Frankenstein and realises that the only way to draw him out is to kill his brother William.
    If I had killed half of Ingolstadt, would you have come?
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Especially on the night the Creature comes to claim the female Frankenstein has promised.
  • I Warned You: The Creature to Frankenstein. He certainly did.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Though Frankenstein taunts the Creature cruelly regarding the female Creature, he makes several valid points — there's no way to force her to love the Creature, she might hate him, or turn out depraved, and she has no reason to honor a promise made on her behalf before she was created.
  • Kill the Cutie: Cute little William Frankenstein. Elizabeth hits this in the penultimate scene, and gets it even worse, as she has been acting as what passes for Victor's conscience.
  • Like Father, Like Son: The Creature tells Elizabeth that this is why he must behave the way he does.
  • Mad Scientist: Victor, but particularly evident in Miller's portrayal, compared with the aloof arrogance in Cumberbatch's.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The Creature is born naked and stays that way for about 20 minutes as he learns to control his own body. And he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. I'll Be in My Bunk. (The filmed releases have the Creature emerging in a loincloth that is his exact skin tone.)
  • Melancholy Moon: The Creature describes the moon as solitary and sad, like himself.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: De Lacey, after his children meet the Creature — not just because of the fear and shock inflicted on his family, but because he knows he has wrecked the Creature's trust in human goodness.
  • No Name Given: The Creature ruefully notes that Victor never gave him that luxury.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title.
  • Revenge Before Reason: For the sake of revenge, the Creature will kill even the few people who have shown him kindness.
  • Parental Abandonment: The source of the Creature's problems. Benedict Cumberbatch has told interviewers that the play is about bad parenting.
  • Parental Substitute: De Lacey.
  • Please Wake Up: The Creature to Frankenstein, in one of the most moving scenes.
  • Point of View: The original novel was told through Victor's eyes. Here the main focus is on the Creature; he is the first character we see and besides the brief scuffle in the lab, Victor doesn't really come into focus until the Creature makes his way to Geneva
  • Post-Rape Taunt: "Now I am a man!"
  • Protagonist Title: Also a One-Word Title.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Can't get at your creator? Well, he has a sweet and innocent fiancee...
  • Rousseau Was Right: The Creature is born innocent, but learns the ways of men.
    The Creature: And finally...I learned how to lie.
  • Security Cling: Elizabeth tries to persuade Frankenstein to stay - or at least take her on his trip to Scotland - with this.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Well, we don't see M. Frankenstein dying of a broken heart...
  • Talking to the Dead: Frankenstein dreams a conversation with his dead brother.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The whole play, for both Frankenstein and the Creature.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: M. Frankenstein thinks his son has gone mad. He may be right.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: The Creature emerges from his womb covered in stitches and gashes, and sutures that hold his arms to his shoulders. These wounds never heal over the course of the play — this is clearly deliberate, given that Frankenstein, later in the play, gleefully observes "The sutures have held!" — not healed, but held.
  • You Can Talk?: Frankenstein to his Creature.
    The Creature: Yes, Frankenstein, "it" speaks.
  • You Monster!: Frankenstein to the Creature. Actually, everyone to the Creature.
  • You Taught Me That: The Creature tell both Elizabeth and Frankenstein that he has become a monster because Frankenstein abandoned, abused and deceived him.


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