We all love to be scared, and one of the most iconic horror stories of all time is set to be brought back to life on our stage this November.
Blackeyed Theatre, in association with South Hill Park, once again bring life to Frankenstein’s monster in this new adaptation.
We caught up with the production’s director Eliot Giuralarocca to find out more.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a director?
This is such a difficult question to answer; like being asked which one of your children is your favourite! All the shows I’ve directed for Blackeyed Theatre have been extremely enjoyable, challenging and rewarding in differing ways, but I suppose if I had to pick the one that was most rewarding, I’d go for Blackeyed theatre’s production of ‘Not About Heroes” a two-hander that charted the relationship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and marked the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.
I spent what seemed like an eternity reading the script and thinking ‘what on earth am I going to do with this?!’ I knew that I didn’t want to give the audience an easy set of assumptions to work with and a naturalistic set – which perhaps might be the expectation – with leather armchairs, desks, bookcases, sandbags and barbed wire – an approach that just didn’t fire my imagination. So instead, working closely with the designer Victoria Spearing, we came up with a set that was part art installation and part a memorial to the war and consisted of piles of books and about fifteen Dada inspired ‘figures’ that created the environment and sculptured the space in which the story unfolded. It allowed Charlotte McClelland to create incredible shadows with her mood enhancing lighting which in unison with Clive Elkington’s striking video projections seem to me to give us a visual equivalent of a poem, at once concrete and specific yet still allowing an audience room to create their own interpretations.
We were also blessed with two fantastic actors in Ben Ashton and James Howard who worked incredibly hard in the rehearsal room and gave pitch perfect performances, and the whole thing was beautifully underscored by Tom Neil’s haunting music and subtle sound design. Once a show is up and running, you often sit in the audience watching and thinking, ‘If I could start again I wish I’d done this or that slightly differently’ but I was really pleased with this one. All the different components of the show just seemed to blend together seamlessly and I really enjoyed watching it! It felt like we had taken a risk that had paid off. Audiences seemed to enjoy it too and that was very satisfying.
What was it that enticed you to take on Frankenstein?
I didn’t need much enticing to be fair. Adrian McDougall the Artistic Director of Blackeyed Theatre approached me with the idea and I jumped at the chance to do it! I knew the novel well and really loved it. It’s a cracking, gripping, classic story that has stood the test of time and when you are presented with an opportunity to have a go at something like that you simply have to grasp it with both hands. I’d directed Dracula for the company a couple of years previously and had really enjoyed trying to meet the challenges that the gothic horror genre presented. Working on the show was a very creative experience and thankfully, Dracula proved to be very popular with audiences too. John Ginman, who had adapted the novel for the stage really well had also been commissioned to adapt Mary Shelley’s novel and that, along with having the same artistic team that I’d used on Dracula on board for Frankenstein was also very reassuring. Working with the same creative team means that we have a creative shorthand and a vital sense of complicite which means that I at least start a project with hope!
What do you perceive to be the main tasks and challenges with directing this adaptation?
We have a cast of five performers to tell the story and I think it’s definitely going to be a busy show for them, a real ensemble piece with a bold ‘actor led’ performance style. I envisage the company on stage all the time bringing the story to life and moving fluidly from one location to the next, puppeteering, changing roles, manipulating objects, moving furniture, creating environments, playing instruments and underscoring the action with percussion, voice and sound as necessary. We’ve been quite ambitious with the vision for this piece with the inclusion of live music and sound as well as the challenge of puppeteering a 6’4” Bunraku style Creature, so just getting the show up and ready in the short rehearsal time available will definitely be challenging, but going for a bold form of storytelling that is focused on the actors’ ability to transform is, I’m sure, the right way to go. With the creature needing three performers to manipulate and animate it, working out which actor will be free and when is a logistical challenge in itself and I’m sure there will be times when it will feel like directing traffic in Trafalgar Square! I’m a great believer that theatre is often most potent when it is most simple and I think one of my main tasks will be to try and find the the most economical but theatrically inventive way to tell this story while creating a dynamic environment in which the actors can really play, discover, create and ultimately take ownership of the material themselves. The performers have a long tour ahead, so it’s important that they feel fully invested in the artistic creation of the work. The discovery of the theatrical style and the set of story-telling conventions that we will use to serve this particular story will of course be a big challenge and one that will only fully reveal itself in the rehearsal room.
What’s the vision, and what are you hoping to achieve in terms of style?
I suppose for me, one of my touchstones for this piece was that the structure of Mary Shelley’s novel takes the form of a story that contains other stories within it. We start with Captain Robert Walton’s story recounting his journey to the North Pole where he meets an exhausted, half-dead Frankenstein. He in turn, proceeds to tells the story of his life and within that story we find another story, the Creature’s story. This ‘Russian doll’ structure sparked my imagination. For me Frankenstein suddenly felt like a dark gothic fairy tale with a nightmarish and dream like quality that seemed to flow from this. It struck me that those that didn’t know the novel and who were watching in the theatre without any preconceptions might question how reliable Frankenstein is? Could what he says be true? Has he hallucinated the whole thing? Is he in fact a raving madman?…Dramatically, all we know for sure is that he’s telling a story. And so I decided that we should embrace this element and absolutely make the fact that he’s telling the story the focal point of the piece. So we ‘set’ the play on the ship upon which Frankenstein clambers aboard, as that is the only thing that we know to be real, and in turn the ship ropes and crates and the materials and the furniture that he finds there become what he uses, and we use theatrically, to help to tell his story. The creature too therefore has elements and accents of this world of the ship, of cloth and rope and sack and stiches, something that has literally been brought to life by Frankenstein as if wrenched from the set. For me, the beauty and excitement of theatre is that it is live, unfolding in front of you as you watch and having the creature as a life-sized Bunraku style puppet seemed to fit perfectly with this approach. Frankenstein is obsessed with finding the spark of creation, the ‘elix of life’ and bringing to life dead matter. I hope that we will mirror this by bringing the creature to life theatrically, animating, manipulating and giving life to the puppet in front of the audience and hopefully giving them the illusion that it has a life of it’s own. It seemed to me to be a lovely theatrical metaphor for the act of creation in the story and I hope that audiences will embrace it.
What can the audience expect from this production?
A show that celebrates the excitement of live theatre using inventive, bold storytelling to bring Mary Shelley’s dark gothic thriller to life using puppetry, live music and sound and utilising all the skills and abilities that our company of 5 performers possess. If audiences leave the theatre excited and entertained by what they’ve seen as well as being moved and challenged by the complex moral questions that this tale provokes, I’d be delighted!
You can see Blackeyed Theatre’s adaption of the Mary Shelley classic on 12 November at 7:30pm.
For full details and to book visit the event’s page on our website by clicking HERE.