I always try to keep an eye on what’s coming up at the Old Fire Station, an intimate little venue at the centre of Oxford providing the very best of local contemporary art, drama, and music. When I saw that this adaptation of Frankenstein was a Wild Goose Theatre Production, I knew I was in for a real treat.
Formerly Tomahawk Theatre, I’d seen a few Wild Goose productions as they’re regulars at The Oxford Castle every year with performances of various works of Shakespeare. They always blow me away so I was looking forward to seeing what they could do with this classic gothic tale.
2023 marks 200 years since the first stage adaptation of Frankenstein was produced, demonstrating not only the success the story has seen, but also how relevant the themes of love, beauty and man versus nature remain to this day. While a story this seminal and enduring can be a lot of pressure to take on, director Billy Morton enjoyed the challenge, expressing that “the entire process has been a joy.” It remained faithful to the original yet creatively reimagined because Morton, who also played the role of Captain Robert Walton, is strongly of the belief that “the classics are classic for a reason.” The adaptation takes place on a ship, perhaps a detail prompted by the recent resurgence of sea shanties which support the narrative of this play from start to finish.
On a voyage to the North Pole, Captain Walton and his crew encounter a dark figure on the rocks. Unable to get to him, they pray for the soul – who we later learn to have been Frankenstein’s Monster. They carry on their journey, only to be hailed by Frankenstein himself who was seeking to put an end to the havoc caused by his creation. “Never will I give up my search” states Victor, “until he or I perish.” Joining the ship, he tells the story of how he found himself here, and how his monster came to life.
The frame narrative was really clearly laid out leaving no room for confusion but allowing much creativity. We watched as the crew of the ship transformed into characters of Victor’s story. Each and every cast member gave a steady and impressive performance, from the execution of a variety of different accents to their vocal range in the frequent sea shanties. Grace Olusa and Peter Todd in particular who played Elizabeth and Clerval respectively – as well as various other characters – were deeply captivating in each role they embodied.
The cast were very inventive with the set, in fact I’ve never seen a more versatile handkerchief in my life. The small stage did often look quite difficult to manoeuvre, those on the front row might’ve felt at risk of an actor landing on their lap if they inched back any further, but it was managed with neat choreography and stage direction.
It’s a reasonably long performance in total, around two and a half hours including the interval and at times it did feel a little slow, but enjoyable on the whole and a real reflection of the talent and creativity that Wild Goose has to offer.
While Frankenstein has now finished its run at the Old Fire Station, Wild Goose Theatre return to Oxford Castle this summer for an open-air performance of Romeo and Juliet, from 3-29 July – I, for one, will not be missing it. Keep an eye out for tickets to go on sale.