Squash champ James Willstrop tackles ‘mad scientist’ role in Mel Brooks’s spoof horror musical Young Frankenstein in York

Following the science? James Willstrop as Dr Frederick Frankenstein, creator of the Creature in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Young Frankenstein. Picture: Jennifer Jones

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre’s delayed northern premiere of Mel Brooks’s comedy horror musical Young Frankenstein opens at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre next Wednesday.

Unforeseen circumstances had forced the late postponement of last autumn’s run at the Grand Opera House, but rehearsals re-started in York in early December under the direction of Andrew Isherwood.

All the original principal cast chosen by Pick Me Up artistic director and designer Robert Readman was still available, not least former squash world number one James Willstrop in the lead role of mad scientist Dr Frederick Frankenstein, first played by Gene Wilder in Brooks’s 1974 horror-movie spoof of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein.

“You hear of other shows where it’s happened, but it was a really sad feeling when we couldn’t do it as were just about to start our run,” recalls James.

“I was feeling pretty depressed afterwards, thinking ‘this show isn’t going to happen’ – and when people ask, ‘how are you feeling?’, it’s unusual to have to explain to anyone as it’s not ‘real life’, but you do feel really deflated.

Pick Me Up Theatre principals in Young Frankenstein: back row, from left, James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning; front row, Jack Hooper’s Igor and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga. Picture: Jennifer Jones

“But then we got this text from Bells [production management assistant and actress Helen Spencer] asking, ‘Can you do these dates?’, as Robert said we could go ahead with a new run.”

Out went Pick Me Up’s planned production of Chicago at the JoRo, replaced by Young Frankenstein. Rehearsals have been a matter of “going again”. “We had the best part of a month off when the last thing I was thinking of doing was listening to the soundtrack!” says James.

“It’s been a case of getting into the scenes again, with the choreography kept largely the same. Andrew has been really great on the detail, which actors love, and that’s been good. He’s trusted our instincts and he’s been very alive to the comedy.”

James, who made his Pick Me Up debut as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music in December 2022, has enjoyed becoming acquainted with Brooks’s parody songs.

“Going into the audition, I didn’t know a lot about the show, but I love Pick Me  Up and working with Robert, and I loved the opening number, The Brain, which I decided to learn for the audition.

James Willstrop: Men’s doubles squash gold medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, his fifth Games

“A week out from the audition, I hadn’t been sure about the show, but by the time I did the audition, I was thinking, ‘this part is great, I’ve got to do it’!

“The first few times, listening to the soundtrack, it took me a while to get a feel for the songs, but then you realise they’re just great, simple songs. I love the tunes, they have a vaudeville quality, and the humour is always there.”

James, now 40, had first performed in “serious dramas” before branching out into musicals, and last year found him heading to the Cornish coast to play deluded mystery novel writer Charles Considine in Ilkley Playhouse’s production of Noel Coward’s supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit at the Minack Theatre.

“Doing that humorous role, and being tall [James is 6ft 4ins], with all the physicality that goes with that, just seemed to link perfectly to then playing Frederick Frankenstein,” he says.

. “It’s not subtle but it’s a great comedy genre,” says James Willstrop of Mel Brooks’s humour. Picture: Jennifer Jones

In Brooks’s spoof, the grandson of infamous scientist Victor Frankenstein, Dr Frederick Frankenstein, has inherited his family’s castle estate in Transylvania. Aided and hindered by hunchbacked sidekick Igor, Scandinavian lab assistant Inga, stern German Frau Blucher and needy fiancée Elizabeth, he strives to fulfil his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse back to life.

Cue comedy in the bold Brooks style. “It’s lovely to be doing something silly, full of innuendos and jokes that some people might hate but are just daft,” says James. “It’s not subtle but it’s a great comedy genre,” 

James, whose father grew up in York, lives in Harrogate and now divides his time between coaching squash – and “still playing a bit” – at the Pontefract Squash and Leisure Club and performing on stage.

Coming next will be his role as recovering alcoholic Harry in Bingley Little Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company at Bingley Arts Centre, West Yorkshire, from July 1 to 6.

Pick Me Up Theatre in Young Frankenstein, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 31 to February 3 2024, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

REVIEW: Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal ****

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson’s The Creature in Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein

AFTER their liaison with York Theatre Royal for a tour of Juliet Forster’s production of Around The World In 80 Days earlier this year, Tilted Wig make a welcome return north with Frankenstein. In Halloween season, as chance would have it, in a tour running from September 14 to November 25.

Forget Halloween. This is not Frankenstein’s monster of six Hammer horror films or Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. This is Frankenstein reimagined by Séan Aydon after Mary Shelley, as the cover to Tilted Wig’s elegantly designed programme denotes.

An earnest, deadly serious, deeply humanitarian Frankenstein with only one shard of humour and two significant changes: scientist Doctor Victor Frankenstein has become Doctor Victoria Frankenstein (Eleanor McLoughlin), and the gothic sci-fi novel’s 1818 setting has moved to wartime 1943 in Poland.

Neither the Nazis, nor the Second World War in name is mentioned, but the shadow of eugenics, and indirectly the creation of a master race, an Aryan nirvana, casts a dark shadow over Doctor Frankenstein’s experiments and the ruthless university philosophy of Basienka Blake’s Richter.

Aydon’s production opens in a dry ice fog in a wooden hut, the spartan emergency home of Blake’s first character, Captain. A frantic knock on the door: McLoughlin’s exhausted Victoria Frankenstein is seeking shelter and sustenance.

Here are two women “hiding from their past at what feels like the very end of the world”. One of them, Frankenstein, has a terrifying story to tell; the other has a gun in her hand, demanding that she tell it.

Whereupon Nicky Bunch’s set peels back to reveal Frankenstein’s laboratory, where a storm is brewing on the perfect night for sufficient electricity to spark her creation, made from body parts, into life.

In Bunch’s design, the profusion of laboratory jars lights up,like beacons, as if in response to Doctor Frankenstein’s excitement at this golden opportunity for scientific progress. She will share her exact plans with Francine (Annette Hannah in her impressive professional theatre debut), but not with husband Henry (Dale Mathurin), and nor with her sister Elizabeth. On her first visit in six months, with no letters home in that time, Victoria is too preoccupied to have dinner with her.

The Creature’s sudden surge into life as the storm crackles is an electrifying piece of theatre in every way, visually, aurally, musically: the peak of Eamonn O’Dwyer’s sound designs in a scree of discordant strings. Horrifying, remarkable, breathtaking, amid the rusted operating equipment.

Aydon has created a thriller as much as a horror story, one with a sense of moral responsibility that suits its wartime setting but resonates anew in our new age of artificial intelligence and robotics and our fears over the route this AI is taking.

Aydon’s exploration of “the very fabric of what makes us human and the ultimate cost of chasing ‘perfection’” puts both McLoughlin’s Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson’s Creature under the spotlight.

She is thrilled anew at the possibility of creating a partner for The Creature, at his demand, until she is challenged by Hannah’s Francine over her own status, as a dwarf. Where does that fit in with this pursuit of “perfection”? 

A shattering moment, indeed, one that confronts all human experimentation and scientific exploration, just as in Michael Mann’s film Oppenheimer this summer.

Robertson’s Creature is never given a name by Doctor Frankenstein. He calls her “Mother” when they finally meet after his escape on that first night through a broken window. Another deeply impactful moment that makes Aydon’s production so powerful in its transition from Shelley’s series of letters to theatre of the imagination, a ghost story of the haunted Frankenstein.

The Creature, left to fend for himself, teaches himself how to talk, to learn Shakespeare too. That will make for an extraordinarily moving finale when The Creature reprises Hamlet’s final speech:  What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

“The rest is silence,” he concludes, just as Hamlet did. Silence does indeed fall across the Theatre Royal auditorium, but then explosive applause follows, and the conversations begin.

A Frankenstein for today, a cautionary tale with a fearful message for tomorrow, Tilted Wig’s reinvention demands to be seen.  

Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Not suitable for under 12s.

Tilted Wig reimagine Frankenstein with a female Doctor and a Second World War setting in Halloween run at Theatre Royal

Eleanor McLoughlin as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Cameron Robertson as The Creature in Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein, on tour at York Theatre Royal. All pictures: Anthony Robling

TILTED Wig’s Frankenstein is an electrifying reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Gothic 19th century horror story, now set in 1943, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday for the Halloween season.

While Europe tears itself apart, two women hide from their past at what feels like the very end of the world. One of them has a terrifying story to tell.

Adapted and directed by Sean Aydon, this new thriller explores the very fabric of what makes us human and the ultimate cost of chasing “perfection”, with a cast led by Eleanor McLoughlin as Doctor Victoria Frankenstein, alongside Basienka Blake as Captain/Richter, Cameron Robertson as The Creature, Dale Mathurin as Henry, Lula Marsh as Elizabeth and Annette Hannah as Francine. 

“When I first approached the script, I wanted to make it feel more contemporary, to relate more to the ethical questions of today and to make it feel more real,” says Séan. “But setting it in 2023 felt too clean and clinical. There is something far less scary about lasers and steel in comparison to rusted operating equipment.”

Why pick the Second World War? “There is no historical context that we have a better shared understanding than that of World War II. We are all aware of the horrors of the time, and by setting our play amongst them it raises the stakes immeasurably; the Doctor’s experiments have the power to change the whole world in a way we can all imagine,” says Séan.

“By exploring it through the prism of that time, a world where eugenics and racial purity were growing in popularity, I’m also hoping that the audience question the ethics of today and the dangerous path that chasing ‘perfection’ leads to.”

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein and Lula Marsh’s Elizabeth in a scene from Tilted Wig’s Frankenstein

Séan’s gender swap of Shelley’s protagonist, transforming Victor to Victoria Frankenstein, influences the play’s dynamics and overall message. “The biggest impact of having a female doctor is the use of the word ‘mother’ and all the connotations that go with it,” he says.

“When the Creature calls her ‘Mother’ it’s a chilling reminder of the responsibility we have when creating life and how distorted the relationship can become.”

Séan approached the original text as a starting point for an entirely new play. Although major plot points remain intact, little dialogue was lifted from the novel, allowing for the exploration of Shelley’s ideas in a fresh context.

“The book itself is not particularly theatrical; it is told in a series of letters. But I wanted to retain that element of it feeling like a ‘ghost story’ told in the past tense,” he says. “I love the idea of two people sitting by a fire, telling a story that grows in the audience’s mind until the tension is almost unbearable. True fear exists in the imagination.”

Doctor Frankenstein’s story is enduringly popular, resulting in interpretations over the years on both stage and screen. Next up, Emma Stone will be a female Frankenstein’s monster in the upcoming film Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Boris Karloff’s 1931 creature is often lauded as definitive, while the 1957 Hammer horror reworking featuring Christopher Lee spawned six sequels. Less scary, but still impactful, was Mel Brooks’s 1974 parody, Young Frankenstein, starring and co-written by Gene Wilder.

Dale Mathurin’s Henry in Séan Aydon’s production of Frankenstein

In 1999, Frankenstein’s story received a somewhat different treatment in the direct-to-video Alvin And The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. In 2012, Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie was voiced by the likes of Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Martin Short.

At the National Theatre, London, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in Danny Boyle’s 2011 production, subsequently sharing the Laurence Olivier Award and Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.

Séan attributes this endless fascination to several factors: Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel, still captivating audiences as scientific advancements bring its themes closer to reality.

Secondly, its themes are timeless: humanity’s responsibility toward one another is questioned continually, while the rise of AI [artificial intelligence] has thrust the progress of science and technology into the news headlines.

Thirdly, the eternal question of nature versus nurture will always strike a nerve with parents and carers.

Horror stories on stage and screen represent our inherent desire to be scared. Whereas cinema crafts realistic portrayals of horror, theatre taps into the power of the imagination and the present moment in an immersive experience that heightens the tension and fear.

Eleanor McLoughlin’s Doctor Victoria Frankenstein at work on creating The Creature

Witness Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories that terrified Grand Opera House audiences in York in March 2020 or Robert Icke’s psychological horror adaptations.

Now comes Tilted Wig’s reinvention of Frankenstein. “I want people to leave realising they haven’t relaxed any of the muscles in their body for the last hour,” says Séan.

“If you love gripping drama; if you love a good story well told; if you want to be laughing and before you know it find your heart in your mouth; if you want to be left arguing about which character was in the right for the next few days, you should book to see Frankenstein.”

Tilted Wig in Frankenstein, York Theatre Royal, October 24 and 26 to 28, 7.30pm; October 25 and 26, 2pm; October 28, 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Not suitable for under 12s.

Did you know?

SEAN Aydon was assistant director on the world premiere of Tom Fletcher’s The Christmasaurus at the Hammersmith Apollo, London, and adapted and directed the national tour of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Did you know too?

TILTED Wig’s Frankenstein features an original score by Eamonn O’Dwyer, who provided the score for Shakespeare Rose Theatre’s Twelfth Night and Henry V in York in 2019.

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Selby Town Hall, April 28

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman: “Songs crafted with great care and love of language and form”

A POWER cut, a piano and a bottle of wine. Such were the beginnings for one of the new songs unveiled by the fine folk duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman.

That tune, Year Without A Summer, closes their new album Almost A Sunset, and is based on Mary Shelley’s sodden holiday that created Frankenstein.

You don’t have to travel to Switzerland to find inspiration, and the song was written one wi-fi-less evening at their home on Dartmoor. Roberts is originally from Barnsley while Lakeman is hewn from the Devon lands and from something of a musical dynasty.

Many of their songs are inspired by books. Roberts, a prolific reader, shared her love of fine words and colourful characters from the past (human and animal). Ropedancer, a standout on the album, is based on one Charles Blondin, a Victorian funambulist (a tightrope walker to you and me).

As she sang, Roberts’s voice soared, still a wonder and undimmed by the years. Roberts and Lakeman are not prolific, but each of their albums (the first in 2001) are crafted with great care and love of language and form.

Roberts and Lakeman’s Selby setlist “was a marvel, full of welcome changes and shifts of style and pace”

This was reflected in the quality of the performance, which was consistently at a level only a select few can reach. Blondin once carried his (presumably soon to be and now ex) manager on his back across a chasm – but this concert never felt like a nervy high-wire act. We were in the safest hands. Like her Barnsley peer, Kate Rusby, Roberts and Lakeman occupy the more accessible end of the folk spectrum and even their more obvious material is full of melody.

This wonderful venue felt like an apt staging post for the duo, entertaining and selling beautifully scented, organically made albums that you can’t buy on Amazon or eavesdrop on Spotify.

The 16-strong setlist focused mostly on the new record, interspersed with deft nods to their past. Roberts was mostly at the keyboard, barefoot, gracefully leaning to the left as she drew out the emotion with exquisite control.

Her husband, meanwhile, was in his brown familiars, and his face mirrored the patterns he coaxed from his guitar. While Roberts’s voice can take on all comers, Lakeman’s playing, in its variety and feel, was equally magnificent.

The setlist itself was a marvel, full of welcome changes and shifts of style and pace – including the obligatory bawdy one (The Lusty Blacksmith) and a more left -field moo (Cows Of Mystery, which could have been awful but was anything but).

After 90 minutes, all too soon they were gone like the May blossoms that adorn their songs. Memories of this lustrous concert will linger longer.

Review by Paul Rhodes

‘Be pleasantly surprised by how little you really know of Frankenstein,’ say York horror company Theatre Of The Macabre

Lee Gemmell, left, and Dan Boyle in rehearsal for Theatre Of The Macabre’s Frankenstein. All pictures:  Hannah Jade Robbins

DO you reckon you know everything there is to be known of the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

“If so, come along and be pleasantly surprised about how little you really know,” say York company Theatre Of The Macabre, introducing the twisted fantasies and grotesque dreamscapes of next week’s York premiere at Theatre@41, Monkgate, on Wednesday.

“Join us as we discover Victor Frankenstein’s innermost fears and misgivings that haunt his troubled mind and how his ungodly experiments defied the Laws of Nature.”

Director Bryan Heeley’s production began life in 2019 and was set to be unfurled at Theatre@41 in April 2020, only to be derailed by the pandemic. “My original cast was halved due to circumstances too bizarre to stretch belief, so in 2020 we had to re-build, which was by no means easy,” he says. “Eventually, however, the play was re-cast and, despite the strict restrictions, began its ‘rebirth’.”

“All the original cast worked at The York Dungeon so it was relatively easy to arrange meetings. For next week’s cast, besides myself as Walton, there’ll be three of the original actors: Dan Boyle as Victor Frankenstein, Hannah Jade Robbins as Elizabeth and Naomi Lombard as Justine.

Gripping scene: Hannah Jade Robbins’ Elizabeth and Lee Gemmell’s Creature

“They’ll be joined by Jess Murray as Henry and the redoubtable Lee Gemmell as the Creature.”

When first conceived, the cast numbered 20-plus. “But it was relatively easy to divide the parts for this production, giving equal parts to everyone except Lee and Dan,” says Bryan.

“I’d worked with Jess before, in Bronzehead Theatre’s The Alchemist, which also featured multi-role parts, so I knew she was capable of this.

“Lee has been a revalation as the Creature, and as I knew the play backwards, I replaced Dan, who was the original Walton. I was determined to share the parts out equally, regardless of the sex of the character and one character Greta impressed me so much, she was given an extra scene.”

Why are we still so fascinated by Frankenstein and his Creature, Bryan? “I’m constantly amazed, when mentioning the name Frankenstein, how many diverse people quote it as their favourite book and the interesting slants they have on the characters,” he says.

Find out the answer to the question above at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from February 2 to 5

“Feminists love it, sc-fi enthusiasts rate it and ‘horror nuts’ like me constantly cite it among their top ten, along with Dracula and The Phantom Of The Opera.”

Then add the medical aspect that prevails throughout the book, says Bryan. “The ‘miracle’ of rebirth has slowly become a reality as science and medicine have uncovered further revelations. So, it’s even more remarkable that Mary Shelley in the 19th century could conceive such unthinkable ideas. How can we fail to not be impressed by such fantastical concepts?”

No longer does the horror genre suffer from the prejudiced perception of being an “inferior artform”. “It now has the legitimacy it rightly deserves,” says Bryan.

“As a child of the 1960s, my staple diet of entertainment gravitated to Hammer Horror films such as Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman and, of course, Frankenstein.

“Such influences are still there to be seen today; just pop along to HMV and listen to diverse people wax lyrical about the latest Zombie epic while ploughing through the shelves marked ‘Horror’ for undiscovered gems.

The caption above receives a tut-tut from the CharlesHutchPress spelling police

“Theatre has flourished at the same time: the likes of Stephen Mallatratt’s The Woman In Black, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera, Richard Curtis’s The Rocky Horror Show and Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s excellent Ghost Stories are prime examples of this. Even the National Theatre ‘dipped their toes’ with Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein.”

Bryan continues: “The York Dungeon, a fine exponent of the genre, has hosted popular zombie events, which could be classed as live theatre. The pandemic has brought its own particular terrors, yet it was a no-budget short called The Host that generated worldwide acclaim, not least due to participation of York’s own James Swanton as the malevolent spirit. Among the carnage, people still preferred to be shocked.”

Theatre@41’s black-box John Cooper Studio is the perfect theatrical setting for Frankenstein. “We wanted to create a claustrophobic atmosphere to coincide with Victor’s ‘madness’ and Theatre@41 is the ideal space to create such an environment,” says Bryan.

“A thrust-style setting should put our audience close to the action and a few ‘shocks’ on the way will hopefully add an added element to their experience. If we can achieve this then we can go away with a satisfactory feeling and, as the Creature says, ‘rest in peace’.”               

Frankenstein wholly suits a theatrical presentation. “There is nothing so satisfying as taking one’s seat in the theatre, whether it be for a comedy, musical or simply to be shocked,” says Bryan.

“A skilful artist can take you by the hand and lead you a merry dance,” says Theatre Of The Macabre director Bryan Heeley

“A darkened stage invokes our primal fear of the unknown. You have no control of your emotions. A skilful artist can take you by the hand and lead you a merry dance and, somewhere at the back of your mind, you want to go there, no matter what the consequence.

“Frankenstein is such a creature (forgive the pun). You share the emotions of the characters as they pass through their journey and question their motives. You feel invested in the action and leave thinking, ‘would I have done the same thing?’. I have to admit, even though I’ve lived with this project for so long, I still ponder these questions myself.”

One final question demands to be asked: why will next week’s audiences be “pleasantly surprised about how little you really know” about Frankenstein?

“As the old saying goes, ‘there are no original ideas left’, so this question is the trickiest to answer,” concedes Bryan.

Theatre Of The Macabre’s poster for Frankensetin

“I would like to think that by emphasising Victor Frankenstein’s state of mind and his extreme behaviour, I have brought some originality to this production. His actions are for the most part despicable, rash and questionable, despite the events unfolding.

“One could say they are the classic symptoms of a sociopath. His musings are comparable to Hamlet and it’s no coincidence that Shakespeare’s play is quoted in this production – and we all know how that ended.

“But we must also remember they are actions sanctioned by Mary Shelley herself and I’m trying to be faithful to her while adding my own spin. I leave it to the audience to judge and ultimately decide.”  

Theatre Of The Macabre in Frankenstein, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 2 to 5, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Looking ahead

AN offshoot of the Theatre Of The Macabre company regularly presents a Halloween Spectacular in Budapest, Hungary. “It is hoped, in the future, to organise a possible production there,” says Bryan Heeley.

Blackeyed Theatre to stage Nick Lane’s take on Frankenstein at Scarborough’s SJT

Yvette Stone’s puppet of The Creature for Blackeyed Theatre’s 2016 production of Frankenstein. Picture: Alex Harvey-Brown

NICK Lane’s adaptation of Frankenstein will be staged by Blackeyed Theatre at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre from February 9 to 12 as part of a national tour.

South Yorkshire playwright Lane has reinterpreted John Ginman’s original 2016 script for the Bracknell touring company, built around Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel set in Geneva in 1816, where Victor Frankenstein obsesses in the pursuit of nature’s secret, the elixir of life itself.

Alas, nothing can prepare him for what he creates, and so begins a gripping life-or-death adventure taking him to the ends of the Earth and beyond.

Blackeyed Theatre’s highly theatrical telling combines live music and ensemble storytelling with Bunraku-style puppetry to portray The Creature. Designed and built by Warhorse and His Dark Materials alumna Yvonne Stone, the 6ft 4inch puppet is operated by up to three actors at any one time, adding a new dimension to the retelling of the Frankenstein story.

Playwright Nick Lane

Director Eliot Giuralarocca says: “For me, the beauty and excitement of theatre is that it’s live, unfolding in front of an audience as they watch, and the decision to make the creature a life-sized puppet – beautifully and painstakingly made by Yvonne Stone – seemed to fit perfectly with this approach.

“Frankenstein is obsessed with re-animating dead matter by finding the spark of creation, the ‘elixir of life’. We bring our creature to life theatrically, animating, manipulating and breathing life into the puppet right in front of the audience, and in doing so, I hope we present a lovely theatrical metaphor for the act of creation in the story itself and give audiences the chance to share in that creation.”

Victor Frankenstein will be played by Robert Bradley (Hedda Gabler, National Theatre, Joe Strummer Takes A Walk, Cervantes Theatre, Encounters With The Past, Hampton Court Palace). 

Max Gallagher (Brief Encounter, Watermill Newbury, War Horse, National Theatre, Richard III, Northern Broadsides) reprises the role of Henry Clerval, while Benedict Hastings(Wolf Hall, Royal Shakespeare Company, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Kenny Wax) plays Robert Walton.

“We bring our creature to life theatrically, animating, manipulating and breathing life into the puppet right in front of the audience, ” says Blackeyed Theatre director Eliot Giuralarocca. Picture: Alex Harvey-Brown

Billy Irving (War Horse Tenth Anniversary Tour, National Theatre) is chief puppeteer and the voice of The Creature; Rose Bruford graduate Alice E Mayer makes her professional stage debut as Elizabeth Lavenza.

Writer Nick Lane, whose SJT winter production of Jack And The Beanstalk can be watched online until January 31 via sjt.uk.com, was associate director and literary manager at Hull Truck Theatre from 2006 to 2014.

Director Eliot Giuralarocca and puppetry creator and director Yvonne Stone are joined in the Blackeyed Theatre production team by composer Ron McAllister, musical director Ellie Verkerk, set designer Victoria Spearing, costume designer Anne Thomson and lighting designer Alan Valentine (whereas the 2016 production was lit by Charlotte McClelland).

Frankenstein is produced by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, with support from Arts Council England.

Performances in The Round at the SJT start at 7.30pm on February 9; 1.30pm and 7.30pm, February 10; 7.30pm, February 11, and 2.30pm and 7.30pm, February 12. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Blackeyed Theatre’s Bunraku-style puppetry for The Creature in Frankenstein. Picture: Alex Harvey-Brown