Last night I went with a bunch of local Sherlock fans (thank you again for setting that up, silverotter
!) to see the National Theatre broadcast of Frankenstein.
WOW! It's a pity "awesome" has become overused, because I was literally awed by many aspects of the production. It wasn't 100% perfect - I wasn't that impressed by the guy playing Frankenstein's dad and Gretchen the Whore at the beginning was a bit shouty rather than emote-y. But other than that - WOW!
With the exception of a mammoth train made of gears that shows up early in, the staging is extremely bare and minimalist, throwing all the attention onto the acting (where it belongs, IMO.) I was particularly fond of the big bank of bare lightbulbs hung over the stage, that alternated between being scientific equipment, lightening, and a peaceful night sky. I wouldn't have thought that a thousand+ lightbulbs could be that evocative.
Also, I'd been warned that we weren't getting the Full Cumberbatch, as it were, but after watching him flopping and flailing on his stomach for a full 10 minutes trying to figure out how to stand, I'm betting that he was pretty glad of the dance belt that I'm certain was under that abbreviated dhoti. It's not like he could have squawked and adjusted anything that flopped into the wrong place at the wrong time.
Perving aside, I see why everyone is talking about the physicality of the Creature's role and Cumberbatch made an aside about mildly dislocating joints. That was some full-contact acting - it's probably necessary for the two main actors to switch off just to let them recover from the self-inflicted battering every other night!
I also liked the modernization of the dialog. For one thing, it turned Elizabeth from "generic feminine symbol destined for refrigerator" into "actual interesting person (...still destined for refrigerator, though)." Also, she got a much-needed tension-breaking laugh with, "You think your evil creation came to wedding. Did you send it an invitation? It wasn't on the list."
The one fear I really had - aside from something happening to silverotter
and the tickets not being there - was laid to rest almost instantly. You see, I was terrified of the camera work, and not just for the fear that we might not get an eyeful of anything on offer to be seen. In the 90s-mid 2000s, when PBS was filming stage productions for broadcast, there was an appalling fashion for constant jump cuts. The thinking appeared to be that the entire nation had slagged its brain on video games and simply could not be expected to live without "constant visual stimulation" - by which I mean that every five seconds the camera angle drastically changed, unless there was an entire 7 seconds in which the camera was in constant motion.
Shit like that makes me seasick. How can anyone concentrate on a storyline when their attention has to remap and refocus every five fucking seconds?
And worse, the viewer wasn't competent to determine their own view, so there were lots and lots of closeups - and in Flashdance, that often meant a 7-second panarama of feet followed by 7 seconds of faces in rictus grins so that the one thing you could NOT do was actually see the dance as a whole, or figure out where on stage anyone was.
So when the camera for Frankenstein focused on a bell, then panned down the bell rope, then slid towards the stage, my thoughts were pretty profane.
It was perfect. Perfect!
Like the staging, the camera people grasped that the idea was to let the people see the acting
instead of showing off the camera work. It wasn't the death of a thousand visual cuts; the camera angle pretty much only changed when that change gave the audience a better view of what was happening. (For instance, while the Creature flopped on the floor, the camera was looking straight down, eventually sliding to stage level as the Creature picked himself up.) There were very few tight closeups, which was excellent for two reasons:
1) The audience was deemed competent to choose its own focus in a multi-character scene, and
2) Stage makeup isn't meant to be seen 2 stories tall (it was distracting to see Cumberbatch's skull cap peeling in one scene)
There was even a little "making of" bit at the beginning before the show started. It was hard to concentrate on that - people were still coming in and being seated, turning off their phones, etc - but it gave glimpses of how both actors handled both roles.
Afterwards, I came straight home and to bed, and even so I've felt like crap all day... I can never tell when I'm about to get sick or I've just gotten short of sleep; both mean a sore throat, mild fever, and general blah-ness. I don't care. It was ABSOLUTELY worth it!