National Theatre Live: Frankenstein
Chances are that I would never have the pleasure of setting eyes on the British production of Frankenstein, penned by the English writer Mary Shelley, if I did not cross the seven seas purposefully to do so. Fortunately for me and many theatre aficionados the Royal National Theatre in London has made it possible for these performances to be broadcast, live via satellite, to cinemas and venues for the performing arts, situated worldwide. This initiative, called the National Theatre Live (NT Live) has taken on the commendable task of making British theatre virtually available through screenings of plays originally enacted in theatres across the UK. These include the National Theatre, the Young Vic, the Manchester International Festival, the Barbican and London’s West End.
Venues across the globe have the opportunity to partner with NT Live and host these screenings in their respective cities for local audiences to enjoy and cherish. Two such venues in India that have joined hands with the National Theatre are the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai and the India Habitat Centre (IHC) in Delhi. Although NT Live was originally launched in June of 2009, it made its way to Mumbai at the NCPA only in June of 2011. Right before Season 2 was about to end, NT Live premiered at the NCPA with the screening of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein and I think we couldn’t have asked for a better start. I was there for the very first screening and it took me a while to get my head around what was actually happening.
There I was seated in the Godrej Dance Theatre, which has a capacity of 200 seats, watching Benedict Cumberbatch awaken to embody the creature. The screening was a broadcast of the play originally enacted in the astounding, fan-shaped auditorium of the Olivier Theatre. With a seating capacity of 1150, it is the largest theatre at the National and we could feel its enormity as the camera spanned through the stage and the seated audience at the Olivier. Jonny Lee Miller looked and played the part of Victor Frankenstein to the hilt. The production quality of the play was a testimonial to the bar set by British theatre for the rest of the world. The sets, costumes, makeup (especially that of the creature) transported me to the world Mary Shelley had created, in which her characters justified their reason for being. Be it good or evil.
Just when I was beginning to settle in, with these faces crystallised well into the narrative playing inside my head, a friend revealed a tiny little detail. There were two versions of the same play. I was wondering how that could be possible. The only time I had seen that happen was when actors were unavailable and other actors stepped in for them. This time both the actors - Cumberbatch and Miller were very much there and played the roles of the creature and the scientist alternatingly. The version I managed to see had Cumberbatch completely disfigure himself to play the volatile creature while Miller played the relatively constrained scientist. It would have been fascinating to see how the role reversal transformed these two actors and these two characters. Each actor brings something of himself / herself to the characters they play and this diversity is very interesting and intriguing to watch.
Little did I know that years later I would see some of this intrigue sparked in me yet again with these very two actors playing the same character. A genius in the Science of Deduction, penned with great care and courage by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch played the title role in the British TV series Sherlock and two years later Jonny Lee Miller followed it up with the American version, titled Elementary.
These actors are transcending mediums (film, television, theatre) to tell stories that could potentially shape our thoughts. We have been given a unique opportunity to watch some of these stories come alive at NT Live in our very own cities. Make the most of it.
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir