BBC Radio 4 Extra, 30 May - 5 June 2011
Nick Stafford's 1994 version of the Shelley classic reconstructed the
novel as a tripartite narrative, told from the perspective of Captain Robert Walton (Philip Joseph), Victor Frankenstein (Michael
Maloney), and the monster (John Wood). Each narrative was imbued with a particular mood: Walton seemed the 'sanest,' as he
recounted his experiences of discovering Victor while exploring the North Pole; Frankentein himself seemed partly sane, partly
obsessed in his desire to carry out experiments in galvanism, a technique designed to imbue inanimate bodies with life; while
the creature seemed 'monstrous,' an object of fear and loathing for everyone he encountered, despite his desire to perform
As the adaptation unfolded, however, we discovered that this sliding scale of 'madness'
and 'monstrosity' was nothing more than an illusion; a facade designed to exclude the presence of the other from polite European
society. In truth it was Frankenstein who was 'the monster,' who dared to interfere with the unknowable in his desire to become
an ubermensch; the person in control of the universe. In Michael Maloney's crazed performance, he came across as
someone unable to control himself; at once obsessed by the desire to kill the monster he created, yet admiring his own
creative skill in producing such a destructive being. By contrast Wood's Creature came across as a pathetic figure, someone
desiring to be loved, or just accepted, within polite society yet perpetually condemned to its margins. His violent desires
to kill every single member of Frankenstein's family were an expression of frustration: Frankenstein had created him yet seemed
unwilling (or unable) to take responsibility for him. Hence the doctor deserved everything he got.
Claire Grove's production unfolded as a hellish picaresque narrative, comprising
a series of incidents growing more and more violent until the denouement. Frankenstein kept escaping the Creatire,
but invariably the Creature discovered him; on the way he was shot at, attacked, rejected and had to forage for himself like
a wild animal. But circumstances always worked in his favour; he found Frankenstein and confronted him in a stirring climax
to the adaptation. Instead of killing his creator, the Creature let out a visceral scream and went off to die in the North
Pole. His mission had been accomplished; he had condemned his creator to perpetual suffering (or penance) for daring to challenge
the balance of nature. Grove's production ended like a moralitty-play: individuals reap what they sow, although trying their
best to avoid their fate.
Grove's production successfully erased memories of James Whale's immortal 1931 film
adaptation and returned us to Shelley's novel. By doing so she made us realize just how much of a comment it was on Enlightenment
sensibility - especially the relationship of human beings to their world.