National Theatre Live brings ‘Frankenstein’ to Skirball

Courtesy of National Theatre Live (Catherine Ashmore)

 

One of the best-kept secrets of the New York theater scene is located in the heart of NYU’s campus. Since 2009, the National Theatre Live program has recorded performances at the National Theatre in London and broadcas-ted them to cinemas around the world. One of those theaters is the Skirball Center for Performing Arts.

On Oct. 30, Skirball will host an encore screening of “Frankenstein,” the innovative 2011 production directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”). The production received rave reviews and helped propel Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) and Johnny Lee Miller (“Elementary”) to stardom. Both men played the main  roles — Victor Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s creature, switching roles at each performance and eventually sharing the Olivier Award and London Evening Standard Award for Best Actor.

Those who treat themselves to “Frankenstein” will find a set of stellar performances — supporting players Naomie Harris and George Harris are also excellent. The dual casting provides a poignant look at the similarities between Frankenstein and his creature. The monster’s story is one of a heart breaking and then hardening, while Frankenstein’s is of a man scared of his own vulnerability. They are both made cold and bitter, but the creature becomes that way because of experience, while Frankenstein transforms because he fears it. Ironically, this leaves the creature wiser, more mature and arguably more of a man than Frankenstein.

The cast is only one of the tools Boyle uses to experiment with the contrast and connections between man and monster, creator and creature, religion and science. An arc of fluorescent light bulbs above the auditorium alludes to the electric power we have learned to harness, as well as the hig-her powers we cannot control. The set also plays an important part. At one point, a train pierces the stage, filling the theater with a cacophony of mechanical banging and the engineers’ religious worksong. Nick Dear’s excellent script focuses the first act on the creature and the second on Frankenstein, allowing equal time to study the hero and villain — though the decision of who fills each role is left to the audience.

Tonight’s screening will provide viewers with a touching and frightening treat appropriate for Halloween. Other upcoming National Theatre Live productions include “50 Years On Stage”— an a la carte of scenes performed by icons such as Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Maggie Smith to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre — and William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” starring Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 30 print edition. Suzanne Egan is a staff writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

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