A Game of Two Halves but Which is Best? – Libby Purves

Theatregoers rarely get such an agonizing choice (assuming that they are quick enough to get tickets at all). But to aid queuers and ticket-swappers, some pointers on which Creature will be to your taste: Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller.

As far as the scientist goes, it matters less: the Frankenstein part is shorter, less intense, and mainly requires the actor to look by turns appalled, fascinated, insanely arrogant, a bit mad, and half-dead in a fur parka. 

Cumberbatch plays him a touch more effete, bordering on gay (his reluctance to embrace the lovely Elizabeth rings alarm bells). Lee Miller is equally convincing but choleric, striding, alpha-male.

The Creature, however, has more to work on. As a newborn naked adult he must thrum and struggle in muscular confusion, stagger upright with innocent pain, and respond to a world of experience in nearly twenty minutes of silent mime. He must develop a half-articulate, intelligent and cruel nobility that would tax the greatest actors, and express a physical innocence slowly tainted with disgust at his origins. He has to be human yet not human, a moving conundrum that has fascinated two centuries.

So here’s the lowdown. Lee Miller is physically wild, free of the slightest self-consciousness whether naked or in rags, deploying a half-limping agility and a strange, blurred voice. The only slight problem is that he’s just too damn good-looking to justify the fact that everyone flees from his repulsiveness: not many actors smeared with blood and botched bits of sewing look, frankly, quite that buff.

Cumberbatch is more graceful, girlish almost: but to see this normally suave performer hurling himself into the agile physicality and awkward strangeness of the Creature is revelatory, a quantum leap for his reputation. He gives the early struggles more playfulness and does not hang on to the speech impediment the way that Lee Miller does. But they’re both terrific. And the relationship between creator and Creature seems all the stronger for the nightly exchange. It is a theatrical coup.