NT Live Frankenstein: Cast #2
Scroll back through my feed, and you’ll see my thoughts on Cast #1 redux (Cumberbatch as Creature/Miller as Frankenstein.)
The, “Reverse,” cast is intriguing in contrast to the point that it nearly feels like a different play, or at least a completely different set of stage directions. Where Cumberbatch imbues the Creature with a sense of an adult, agonizingly trapped in a body that is his creator’s betrayal and abandonment written in flesh and bone, Miller is very much the child in adult form. With a completely new physicality, Miller takes the Creature from birth pangs to encountering society with a sense of childlike wonder. If you’ve ever seen a baby discover their own feet, the openness of a child’s face when they encounter the spectrum of sensory input, the way they crumple when hurt: that’s Miller’s Creature. The Creature’s rage and vengeance feels like something that has cause, vs. the way Cumberbatch seems to show a Creature who is born in a skin full of human cruelty. The first cast’s dynamics, and very dry line readings, highlighted the satirical humor of the text. The pointed barbs were funnier, sharper, more blatantly cold and cruel. In the reverse cast, the pathos and struggling humanity of the characters is an open wound. If Miller’s Creature is infinitely more lonely and desperate, Cumberbatch’s Victor is the mirror of that. Intellect is his religion and yet his emotions tease and torment him. Cast one’s doomed denouement feels inevitable: this could not happen any other way. The reverse cast contains a strong current of knowing that things did not have to happen this way.
Whether conscious or not, the mirroring of the actors, truly is the miracle of this production. The shifts of character and tone come down to their choices, their dynamics in whether we see Victor as equally as worthy of compassion as the Creature. The reverse cast gives the audience the sense that this may well be the case, thus bringing home the message that it is choice, regardless of why those choices are made, that determines our fate. Victor is a faltering child, too. Never before called on to be more than the genius scientist, now he sees that if even his creation feels lonliness and the need for love, maybe genius isn’t enough. Miller’s Victor is more aware of himself and his own will, where Cumberbatch seems as lost as the Creature he has abandoned. The tentative glimpses of Victor’s humanity, his grasping of those moments, shifts the dynamic even further. Miller felt as though his Victor was pushing that humanity away, rejecting it as he rejected the Creature. To see the deeper mirroring of both the Creature and Victor, not simply reflecting each other but traveling the same conflicted path in opposite directions, is breathtaking.
It is not possible to see the depth of the play without seeing both casts. The audience is seeing one side of a two-way mirror, in each cast. The text of the play is slight, relying on its cast to create it anew, each performance. What it does in a singular way, is ask pointed questions about the mechanisms of our humanity while showing us the consequences of our choices. The first cast resolves the plot leaving us feeling the bitter desperation of these two men clinging to both the bitterness and one another. In the reverse cast, that is still present, but in a way that highlights the sadness of their isolation, rather than the rage.
The first cast is clearly the journey of the mind, but the reverse cast is one of the heart, and it is all the more agonizing for it.