Peacock Theatre, Dublin
★ ★ ★
“I wanted to rewrite the code of life itself,” Victor Frankenstein tells us, his hubris undiminished after 200 years, while confined to a space that could be his laboratory or a prison cell.
Given his attire, a black tuxedo and a loose bowtie, you don't doubt his ability; he's already sharply rewritten the dress code. Michael West's new version of Frankenstein for Theatre Lovett is a similarly elegant re-animation, or, to use his term, "mutation", reconceiving the gothic tale as a solo performance for Louis Lovett, a performer of stunning animation, asking him to wrestle with both his creation and himself.
Frankenstein, a student in Mary Shelley’s classic and a mad scientist in countless versions since, is now a geneticist, motivated by grief and tweaking the building blocks of life. In a pleasing parallel with adaptation, he extracts DNA from original sources and transplants it into a whole new form.
Lovett, an engaging comic performer with cartoon nimbleness, illustrates almost every line with a verbal or physical fillip, toggling between pigeon languages, mime and song. At one point, his fingers suggest a timid, newly formed creature, scuttling into his jacket. “I became a god,” he announces. “Of mice. But still.”
Like Lovett, the larger creation is hard to restrain: not assembled from body parts and kick-started by lightning, but his own hideously outsized clone, pumped with adrenaline. “Eyes are tricky,” he says of the monstrous results, like a fussy portraitist.
Ger Clancy’s sparing set design, given a vintage timelessness, uses literal smoke and mirrors to conjure a reflection of Lovett’s body, convulsing on a stainless steel gurney, as this creature comes to life, rejected, as ever, by its maker.
Under Muireann Ahern's direction, it requires a doubling of Lovett, tormented by the vengeful monster unleashed from within. But the creature, pained and lumbering, restricts Lovett's more weightless tendencies, allowing room for elegant and subtle video and sound effects from Jack Phelan and Dunk Murphy, respectively. When the creature's voice is finally heard, first nestled in Frankenstein's story but soon overtaking it, Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting throws fascinating creases down Lovett's face, a man split in two.
The play’s fascination, though, becomes a confrontation between man and monster, ego and id. That limits the heady ideas within Shelley’s story, involving parenthood and mortality, a generational rift between conservative and radical politics, for something much closer to a riff on Jekyll and Hyde.
When the lonely creature demands a companion, Frankenstein imagines only baseness and defilement, his own lust for his cousin barely held in check by that tuxedo. Popular culture is often unsure whether Frankenstein is the name of the man or the monster. Here the confusion is more deliberate: can the scientist be separated from the monster, or, like an artist and the creation, are they one and the same?