Cumberbatchweb Review – Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature 9 February 2011

29105580So on Tuesday night the National Theatre released a load of return tickets for the previously sold out production of Frankenstein – including one lonely little £12 ticket in the 2nd row on the very far left of the stalls. Having waited for a couple of hours to give other people the chance to buy it I decided that as I had half a day off work and would be at the National Theatre that afternoon anyway to see Mark Gatiss speak (he was wonderful – charming, witty and urbane) that I would buy it even if it meant seeing Benedict as the Creature twice in fairly quick succession.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as The Creature was, if anything, even stronger the second time round which I didn’t think was possible. It’s a towering performance which pretty much obliterates everyone else on the stage. It’s an intensely physical performance which you fear will leave him half dead by the end of the run (he already mentioned at the stage door wearing bandages on his feet as he’s ripping the skin off them). It’s also a performance which displays a huge emotional range- whether the Creature is questioning the whys and wherefores of his existence with De Lacey, playing childishly with William, laughing and leaping around with giddy joy with Frankenstein once he promises to provide him with a Bride, or cruelly manipulating the innocent Elisabeth,   Cumberbatch captures perfectly the emotion in every scene. The play flounders whenever he isn’t on stage.

I failed to highlight in my original review just what extraordinary work he does with his voice – mewling and clicking like an infant at the beginning, speaking awkwardly as he learns with De Lacey, roaring in anger at Frankenstein and the gentle sly tone he uses with Elisabeth as he lulls her into a false sense of security. All wonderful stuff.

Jonny Lee Miller seemed a lot more confident as Frankenstein, his arrogant joy at his creation is wonderful and he was rather adorable in his scenes with Elisabeth. I cannot wait to see him as the Creature (hopefully he will be playing that role when I go in a couple of weeks). The best scenes in the play remain the two handers with Frankenstein and the Creature, you do rather wish there were more of them.

The ensemble (Naomie Harris & Karl Johnson excepted) remain problematic, there are two very different levels of acting going on but I fear my original review may have failed to give Ella Smith her due (sorry Ella!). She was marvellous in Fat Pig opposite Robert Webb and Joanna Page and she gives her very small roles in Frankenstein her all exuding warmth and charm despite being saddled with some of the weaker lines in the play.

George Harris remains unfortunately the weakest leak as M Frankenstein. I can just about handwave the fact that he has a caribbean accent but he has no chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller and is sadly somewhat wooden.

And if there is no quicker way to change the sets than to have small armies of NT employees appear on stage then perhaps they could at least be dressed to fit the aesthetic?

In terms of things I didn’t quite appreciate the first time around:

The Creature’s scene with De Lacey is such a joy, with the Creature acting at times like a child who has been scolded by his father while Cumberbatch employs his unique talent for mimicry impersonating Karl Johnson’s voice and stance rather well.

There were a couple of small changes already – the sequence where William’s body was found was slightly shorter and the Creature emerged from underneath the sheets on top of the bed (rather than under it) in the scene with Elisabeth in a very impressive piece of choreography.

Very much looking forward to seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature!