Review of CellarDoor’s ‘Frankenstein’ @ Bristol Bierkeller

10/05/2017

One senses instinctively with a new theatre company like CellarDoor that the road ahead won’t so much rise to meet them as carry them right up into the heights of theatre making. With their production of Nick Dear’s ‘Frankenstein’ being only their second ever show – their first sparkling feature being ‘Corpse Bride’ back in January – they are very much taking the first steps of the journey, albeit not in the least bit tentatively. In fact they’re soaring into it with a confidence usually found only in experienced theatre makers, which, at the rate they are currently hurtling, they will soon be.

The latest in their series of Gothic thrillers is an unabashed success, the kind of show student theatre should always aim to be. Dark, lugubrious and electrifying, the audience at the ideally grim Bierkeller was treated to an evening of absorbing and highly intelligent theatre.

Unlike a lot of student theatre, which often dwells in its uncertainty and fails to push into higher gears, the grand intentions of the piece were both presented and met instantly with the opening sequence: Thomy Lawson as the freshly ‘born’ Monster, encountering sentience for the first time. That director Teja Boocock had confidence in her cast was beyond evident. The first five minutes of the play – crucial for seizing the audience’s attention – is spent entirely on the Monster learning how to move. From being splayed out on the floor, with suitable grunts and groans, Lawson slowly brings her Monster to life, sliding and falling about the stage until finally, after a considerable solo sequence, she is on her feet and staring into the face of a disbelieving Frankenstein (Niall Potter).

Boocock’s confidence paid off: the audience were entranced by Lawson’s dedication, and indeed as the play went on it was her development of the Monster, from grunting newborn to almost eloquent philosophiser, that was the centre of attention. There was never a moment in which she seemed to lose sight of the character’s development, and it felt like there was something new added in each scene: never too much and never too little.

And matching Lawson’s masterful performance was a cast as talented as Bristol could hope for. Peter Borsada, for instance, puts in a charming and delightful performance as Delacey, the blind man who unwittingly befriends the Monster. He delivers the ideal amount of kindness and trust to inspire poignancy in his character, providing the perfect crux for the audience’s understanding of the Monster to sprout from. And this chemistry is continued with Niall Potter’s Victor, a pugnacious, fiercely intelligent rendering of the classic victim of his own genius. He strides about the stage with intent and purpose, hitting the line between intellectual confidence and emotional disturbance with a studied ease, let loose on the stage by Boocock’s detailed and trusting direction. He is supplemented pointedly by the likes of Sophie Stemmons’s Elizabeth and Aaran Sinclair’s father Frankenstein, in an ensemble that feels constantly natural and organic.

And to further complement this is a beautiful aesthetic to underscore the story, with a violinist and flautist appearing at sporadic moments throughout to match the melancholic lighting and ambient sounds. Through this coming together of acting talent and aesthetic intelligence, the themes of the awareness of one’s own consciousness, the complications of creation and the search for connection are displayed perfectly, so much so that the play is ultimately perfectly depressing and simply scintillating.

Boocock and co. have certainly laid a statement of intent in the last five months since their debut show, and one wonders how long it will be before they produce something truly spectacular. Although, with that said, when it comes to giving this show a star rating it is hard to know what to mark it down for. If there were any failings they were not in the slightest bit obvious; and given the ‘student’ status of the show, this is all the more impressive.

With all things considered, it therefore makes sense to give this show five stars.

*****

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