Frankenstein leaves the lab
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Frankenstein leaves the lab

Frankenstein's monster is one of the archetypes of horror. Even people who have never read Mary Shelley's 1818 novel or seen one of its countless film and television adaptations are familiar with the creature brought to life by scientist Victor Frankenstein, even if the name of the creator is often misused for that of his nameless creation.

Nick Dear's play Frankenstein went back to the novel for inspiration, giving the creature a voice and a mind, far from the shambling brute he is often depicted as. The Ensemble Theatre production opened on Tuesday at the Street Theatre.

Andrew Henry (left) as Victor Frankenstein and Lee Jones as the monster at the Street Theatre.

Andrew Henry (left) as Victor Frankenstein and Lee Jones as the monster at the Street Theatre.

Photo: Graham Tidy

Andrew Henry, 25, plays Frankenstein, the ambitious young doctor who wants to conquer death.

''He creates a creature by putting fresh organs in a corpse,'' Henry said.

''The creature is more remarkable than he set out to achieve: it's literate, able to learn, articulate and, most importantly, able to feel.''

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Frankenstein rejects his creation and he sets off into the world, completely alone.

''Two levels of the story are still startling,'' Henry said.

''One is about medical advances and scientific implications [and the other is] how human beings treat other human beings.''

Katie Fitchett plays Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancee. She said the character was ''a voice of reason'' to counter Frankenstein's obsession.

''They both want to create life, but Elizabeth wants to have children while Victor wants to do it scientifically, even though the opportunity has been right in front of him the whole time.''

She said the story also dealt with ''identity and belonging and each character's struggle in their own way to find a sense of self in the world''.

Lee Jones, who plays the creature, said the character was a product of his environment so that while his behaviour could not be condoned, it could be understood.

''The play is very clever: it starts with his birth, so the audience feel for him. It's a very vulnerable way to start and people definitely come to care for him,'' Jones said.

Frankenstein's monster has become embedded in popular culture. It has been referred to in editorial cartoons and used in TV shows (including The Munsters) and popular music (Monster Mash). The first motion picture adaptation was made in 1910 with dozens more to follow (of varying levels of fidelity to the source) but perhaps the most famous was the 1931 Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the creature, in make-up created by Jack Pierce.

A series of sequels followed: Karloff played the monster again in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) but, in later films, the creature was played by Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney jnr and Glenn Strange.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain's Hammer Films produced its own series of Frankenstein films with Peter Cushing and later Ralph Bates as Frankenstein. Robert De Niro played the creature in a 1994 film.

The story was the basis for the Mel Brooks film and later Broadway musical Young Frankenstein, an affectionate parody, as well as, even more loosely, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Frankenstein is on at the Street Theatre until May 11 at 7.30pm with a 2pm matinee on May 11. Tickets $35-$45. Bookings: 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au.