Arthur Darvill, Mr. Amy Pond, Rory Williams himself, essays the role of the tortured and driven Victor Frankenstein…or at least so the character was written and intended to be performed.
5th Doctor Peter Davison’s lovely daughter (and wife of 10th Doctor David Tennant) Georgia Moffett clocks in as his longsuffering, ultimately unfortunate wife Elizabeth. Terry Molloy and Geoffrey Beevers, despite comparatively smaller roles in the production, also make their presence felt.
So now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s dig in to the meat of the matter…
Now first, let’s address the positives.
Big Finish certainly put in the hours on this affair, with Jonathan Barnes (Charlotte Pollard) doing an admirable job of transliterating what is essentially a first person epistolary protofeminist philosophy monologue into a living, breathing full cast audio drama.
That noted, while Barnes does retain (and in fact focus on) Shelley’s fixation on the concept of a male desire to subvert and subsume the feminine birthing process (and thus the disturbing pseudo-infantile/pseudo-sexualized “mother father” business that runs throughout much of the creature’s dialogue), the similar centrality of man against (and attempting to assume the role of) God appears far less so, almost as a sidelight or subtext where Shelley very pointedly made it surface text.
Perhaps this is a telling function of postmodernism, but it does deface the core purpose of the tale and leaves the Big Finish version feeling like an odd tangenital take thereof – primarily driven by the pure narrative, but unhealthily obsessed with the ambisexuality angle. It’s disturbing, and just feels wrong on several levels.
Similarly, there’s the issue of stunt casting.
While I’m sure Moffatt-era New Whovians will rush to defend their beloved Mr. Pond (or Mr. Mom, if you prefer, all feminized supporting role to Karen Gillan’s testosterone-driven faux-male role companion), the unfortunate fact is that Arthur Darvill isn’t all that dynamic of an actor.
While he certainly gives it the old college try, the fact that effective bit parts by Terry Molloy and Georgia Moffatt show the respective actor/actresses running palpable rings around him, stealing the limelight with assuredness and aplomb, says far more than mere words in a well crafted critique ever could. Darvill just stands there, all gangly awkwardness, as seemingly unsure of himself as a secondary student in the yearly school play.
And while it can certainly be argued that there is supposed to be no small measure of icy coldness and scientific detachment to the character, Darvill appears incapable of rousing the slightest emotion throughout. Though there are some early intimations of controlled anger, the listener never gets the sense of mania, sorrow, fear or desperation from Victor Frankenstein, even as he commits to the deliberate murder of his mentor Waldman, brings life to his twisted creation, and finally watches as each and every ostensible loved one, from family members to lover/servant to wife are taken from him in vengeance. Despite the ongoing and increasingly tragic litany of horrors taking place around him (and in fact pointedly aimed at getting to and ruining him in an emotional and existential sense), Darvill’s Frankenstein seems to take it all in stride.
Even in the final sequences that open and close the narrative in Antarctica, where he should clearly be at the end of his rope, Darvill speaks in flat and measured tones, as if rattling off today’s lunch menu at the local eatery. It’s so outrageously inappropriate, it’s almost embarassing for the listener – you feel so sorry for his obvious inexperience, you actually want to root for him. After all, next time he may actually “get it”, who knows…
By contrast, Nick Briggs (as Waldman), Geoffrey Beevers (as Victor’s father Alphonse) and the aforementioned Terry Molloy (as Christensen) and Georgia Moffatt (as Elizabeth) steal the show right out from under him, with performances that essay the appropriate range of emotion Shelley’s story (and speaking more directly, Barnes’ screenplay) demand.
In fact, despite having such a short screentime, these four – and particularly Moffatt, whose shift from starry eyed ingenue to savvy…then appropriately angry disillusioned bride and companion to eventual horrified victim add up to a positive tour de force, running the entire gamut of emotions and alteration of persona withiin the course of a mere track or two – deliver more emotional and dramatic range in their brief moments in the sun than Darvill appears to have been capable of eliciting throughout the entire running time!
Briggs’ take on the creature is somewhat less impressive than his knowingly Decadent Waldman (a Lord Henry Wolton figure if there ever was one), choosing to adopt a jowly, nigh cotton-stuffed cheeked tonality for his performance that merely comes off as strange, like Lon Chaney Jr. doing Brando’s Godfather rather than any approximation of the creature we’ve come to accept in either film or audio over the last century. It’s not necessarily horrid, just quite odd. The particulars of voicing aside, though, Briggs does provide suitable degrees of menace, rage and sorrow where called for.
Similarly, Sarah Ovens’ “Bride” character is imbued with the proper pathos for such a brief appearance, and other minor roles such as her Angelique-like Justine, Lizzie Hopley’s Giselle and the wraparound sequence’s Captain Walton (Alex Jordan) offer some measure of vivacity and humanity, again shaming the ostensible lead character by what becomes a decidedly lopsided if not unfair comparison thereto.
Beyond Barnes’ well developed adaptation and the performances noted above, director Scott Handcock and soundman James Dunlop provide a strong, vibrantly atmospheric setting for the tale, eliciting strong performances from the better part of the cast.
Unfortunately, stunt casting has its distinct downsides, and while indisputably a harmless presence if not a downright likeable chap in his role as Rory, that sort of quirky if genial millenial laddism does not a Victorian dramatis personae make.
A worthy effort in many respects, due to an inappropriate and rather flat lead performance, this Frankenstein fails to generate the requisite perfect storm of electricity to give itself the life it both structurally and literarily demands.