Forget the clichéd image of Frankenstein’s Monster that decorates windows every Halloween. Theatre New Brunswick’s revival of the classic play Frankenstein, The Man Who Became God aims to bring back true gothic horror to the Playhouse stage.
While Mary Shelley’s Georgian-era novel has been a literary staple for nearly 200 years, most people’s mental image gravitates towards the Universal Studios film version of 1931, starring Boris Karloff as the iconic Creature. But the elements we normally associate with him — bolts in the neck, green skin, a vocabulary that would make Hodor seem expressive — are not to be found in the original story.
Caleb Marshall, Frankenstein’s director, is the behind-the-scenes mad scientist responsible for reviving a 40-year-old script from the dead. Originally written in 1973 by TNB founders Alden Nowlan and Walter Learning, it was the first original play produced by TNB, going on to garner critical acclaim as the definitive version of Shelley’s classic. To Marshall, going back to the source material was the only choice.
“I think a lot of the tellings of Frankenstein have diluted it, and made it more about a mindless, Hulk-like, rage-filled creature,” he said. “This script is really quite poetic and beautiful and intelligent. I think it’s a play that’s stayed the closest to Shelley’s novel, and is most reflective of what she was trying to create.” Indeed, Marshall said that staying away from the classic horror film look was a deliberate choice.
“I made a decision early on that we were going to tell a truthful story and avoid B movie horror as much as possible,” he explained. “I did not want people to think they were watching something campy or cartoonish.”
To Andrew Jackson, the burly Stratford Festival veteran tasked with portraying the Creature, the emotional depth of the role came as a welcome surprise.
“Like many, I had the Boris Karloff image in my head,” he said. “I was delighted to discover that in fact the Creature is very eloquent — but also very much like a child in some ways, suffering from extreme issues of abandonment.”
Jackson explained how to him the Creature embodies the duality of human nature — sympathetic in one moment, and sociopathic in the next.
“But unlike a sociopath, he feels remorse, he feels tremendous pain, and more than anything, like all of us, what he’s really looking for is acceptance,” he said.
While Jackson was reticent to reveal too many details about his portrayal of the Monster, he did speak to the challenges of portraying a patchwork corpse.
“Obviously my character has been sewn together of deceased human parts, so I have to reveal that this is an extremely poorly-put-together [creature],” he said. But Jackson also sees a spiritual facet to the character: “I think it’s conceivable that there’s more than one soul involved. “
While the definition of horror may have changed since Shelley’s time, Marshall believes that Frankenstein has a classical appeal not to be found today.
“It’s more like a thriller; I think there’ll be moments in this that will be scarier than the average horror film,” he said.
To Jackson, horrifying the audience is his top priority.
“Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get a scream out of the audience,” he said with a laugh. “That would put a smile on my face.”
Frankenstein, The Man Who Became God runs Oct. 23 – 25 at The Playhouse, Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at The Fredericton Playhouse box office or online at Tnb.nb.ca; adults for $37 and students for $10.