Certain texts become Fringe staples, particularly if they are out of copyright, endlessly reinterpreted in various ways for the stage, sometimes modernised, sometimes almost unrecognisable; presented by Chicago’s Manual Cinema, their version of Mary Shelley’s classic novel of Gothic horror and early science fiction Frankenstein manages to be faithful, pleasing to traditionalists and yet hugely innovative.
The magnificent architecture of the interior of the McEwan Hall unfortunately shrouded for the most behind blackout drapes, the large stage is packed with apparatus and instrumentation, a complex percussion section, an array of overhead projectors aimed at a screen perpendicular to the front of the stage and another screen suspended overhead, facing the audience.
With shadow puppets and mime projected upon the first screen, the elements that compose that image are captured and displayed above, the audience able to simultaneously see the action as it is created from inanimate objects and costumed performers and as it is realised and presented in its entirety.
The opening prelude of novelist Mary Shelley, her poet husband Percy and their friend Lord Byron, also a poet, slow and overlong, the pace accelerates rapidly as the title card is flashed up and lightning illuminates the stage, the action becoming frantic as the performers flawlessly manipulate and seemingly randomly discard flat cardboard props, photographs and fabrics to create their own nightmare reality.
Devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace and Julia VanArsdale Miller, the cast of performers and puppeteers comprise Fornace, Miller, Leah Casey, Sara Sawicki and Myra Su, their style expressionist silent cinema with exaggerated yet intricately choreographed movement and projected intertitles, though the iconic story needs little explanation, with the live score provided by Peter Ferry, Zachary Good, Deidre Huckabay and Lia Kohl.
Frankenstein’s creation a manipulated mannequin of stitched cloth, mismatched but oddly whole, even without dialogue it is conveyed sympathetically, its vision the only hint of colour in a realm otherwise in harsh monochrome, more than the sum of its parts as are the ensemble of Manual Cinema themselves, their Frankenstein galvanised to new life two centuries past its conception.
Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein continues at Underbelly at the McEwan Hall until August 26th