One of my new favourite places in London is the National Theatre. It's right on the south bank of the Thames and is in a really cool building. It also puts on amazing productions like Frankenstein, which I am going to tell you about (WARNING there are a few minor spoilers but none, in my opinion, that would ruin it).
First off, if you are in London see it. Wake up ridiculously early, queue for three hours (like I did) and see it. You will not be disappointed. Secondly, if you are not in London, there is National Theatre Live which will broadcast in cinema's throughout the world. You can find out about it here.
The show stars Jonny Lee Miller (from the movie "Trainspotting") and Benedict Cumberbatch who, aside from having maybe the most awesome name ever, has done some amazing stuff like a movie called "Hawking" and BBC's Sherlock (which is also awesome). Both play Frankenstein and his Creature and swap roles each night. I've seen both casts, and they were both amazing but for me, Benedict Cumberbatch's creature was just so good that that's the cast I would chose if I had to. It's also directed by Danny Boyle (of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours). The show was completely sold out even before the first performance. Thus, I had to queue very early in the morning but it was absolutely totally completely worth it.
They only open the house 15 minutes before the show because the Creature is in this circular frame womb-ish thing. While you're sitting there, watching it slowly rotate about the stage wondering "what the heck is this thing?" a bell goes off and scares the heck out of you. The chord for the bell is in the audience and people coming in either accidentally or on purpose set it off.
Then the show starts, Oh my goodness does the show start. The Creature is "born" onstage and spends the first 5-10 minutes of the show flailing about the stage as we see him learn to crawl, walk, and run. If you ever want a lesson in physical acting, here it is. There's no music, very little set and no one else on stage. It is absolutely breathtaking.
Now's also probably the time to say that he is completely naked for this whole opening bit. The day tickets (which is what I had) are in the front row from which you can literally touch the stage while still sitting in your seat. On the first night I saw it, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature, we made eye contact and I had no clue how to react. On the one hand, I didn't want to throw him or anything but on the other hand I was shocked amazed and pretty much any other word along those lines you can think of. Interestingly, most of the commentators say it is 20 minutes but I would question that. It certainly feels that long, but I think that it is our minds playing tricks on us.
The play is two hours straight, no intermission or anything. The poor man playing the Creature must be absolutely exhausted by the end of the show also mentally exhausted, I should think. It is a phenomenally demanding part.
|Picture by Catherine Ashmore from the BBC|
It's hard to put into words exactly how much this play has influenced me, as trite as it may seem. I was having a difficult time with homesickness and motivation and what not the first time I saw it. People often use the word "emotional" to describe being sad or upset. I was "emotional" in the sense that I had almost every emotion going through me at the same time. Thrilled that I was able to see something that good, saddened by the plot of the play, energized by the amazing work of the actors, motivated to work hard to be able to create something, anything, that might be able to move people like this and at the same time depressed knowing I probably never will.
The show also really hit home with me as I am now in the process of getting acceptances and rejections (mostly rejections, but a few acceptances) to PhD programmes for next year. The play brings up a lot of questions about science and academia that I think we should take heed of. Of course, there are the questions of what it means to be human, what responsibilities you have towards a life you create, and the nature of "evil". But there was one line that stands out for me. The Creature asks Frankenstein why he created him to which Frankenstein replies "to prove that I could". There is a belief in much of the academic world especially in the liberal arts that research should exist for its own sake and that trying to aim it towards policy or what not will make it impure. I think that it is important to remember the consequences of your work and what can happen if you produce something dangerous, even if you didn't mean it to be.
|I shall be guarding this with my life.|
So anyways, now that I've got your expectations ridiculously high, I urge you as strongly as possible to go see it live or in the cinema. I'll also try to update the blog a bit more often.
Last but not least, here's a trailer for National Theatre Live.