Gate Theatre, Dublin
Victor Frankenstein, for all his ambition, did not make a convincing humanoid. Frightened by a monster who is gigantic and sallow in appearance, the scientist decides to abandon his creation.
If Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel is a horror story concerned with imitations, it is imaginatively explored by the Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy’s production, presented by the Gate Theatre. Beatboxing is another form of mimicry, with its vocal emulations of drum machines, DJ scratches and synthesisers. The verve of this gig theatre play is to transmute individual voices into a miraculous ensemble, combining familiar elements into unthinkable arrangements. It’s the very thing that Frankenstein, no less than Shelley, was preoccupied with: alchemy.
Sounds from a contemporary world – snatches of overheard conversations; pre-recorded bus announcements – drift in, as a cast of beatboxers begin to tell a classic story with modern confidence. The song Genius, with a neatly quick vocal by Wiz-rd (Tyler Worthington), presents Frankenstein as a young upstart, cocky and brilliant, before the play drops hints of the dark side of scientific discovery. (“I have a H-bomb inside my head,” sings someone, with warning).
Among the inventions of co-directors Conrad Murray and David Cumming, who whip the numbers into a thrilling spectacle, is to present the animation of the monster as a medley led by Abh (Alex Hackett) – a performer who, using slick physicality to extend his vocal effects beyond expectations, gives the impression of someone bound by cartoon physics. Extracts from existing songs give the monster its body parts, such as a belt of Robin S's Show Me Love for the heart, and a chorus of Wap for, well, you know what.
Frankenstein's monster has always been an outsider denied entry, and the play's sobering conclusion goes down a sad path of violence and loneliness
Reanimated corpses may have been the stuff of ghost stories in Shelley’s time, but the play’s choice of horrors has to do with our own era, such as the migration of life to the internet and its precipitation of loneliness. “A whole generation unwilling to go outside,” observes Special K (Kate Donnachie), who takes the lead vocal on “Click Clack,” a song that folds cyberbullying into an explanation of modern despondency. “Snap, snap, chat / These screens are weapons / But you really shouldn’t post that,” she sings.
Unable to find channels for their anger when triggered by anxieties and missed opportunities, the play’s beatboxers eventually become monsters themselves. One fun satirical song, where they are warped by society’s beauty standards, lets them have it out with the audience, mocking their shoes and suggesting they find new plastic surgeons. Frankenstein’s monster has always been an outsider denied entry, and the play’s sobering conclusion goes down a sad path of violence and loneliness.
You can’t help but remind yourself where you are. Who can think of a previous play where the Gate Theatre’s audiences danced at their seats? Or when they attended a relaxed performance? That makes this an emboldening choice, and even recalls the famous story from literature history of how Shelley came to conceive Frankenstein. It was written as a dare.
Runs until 30th April. Touring The Everyman, Cork, gatetheatre.ie