Doctor Frankenstein

Was Mary Shelley right about the doctor and his monster?

By Andrew Andrews

The face of a monster, drawn in blood, commands the cover of Articulate Theatre Company's production of George Allison's alternative version of Doctor Frankenstein.

It's 1823, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein has come out of hiding to tell his side of the story, in hopes of clearing his good name.

It seems that author Mary Shelley had a grudge against the doctor since she was twelve years old, when he diagnosed her as a laudanum addict, exposing her dependency to her father instead of holding the matter in confidence.

Frankenstein claims that he created his so-called “monster” to implant the brain of his brilliant but frail mentor Dr. James Lind into the body of an unknown but healthy commoner, after both men had been killed in separate vehicular accidents.

The story is told in flashbacks as Frankenstein appears before an audience of fellow physicians.

The scenic design for this production is outstanding, with superb, often animated projections, and seemingly-3D images on carefully-disguised 4K monitors embedded into a top-rate set that’s just shy of steam punk.

The costumes have also been meticulously selected, and the domed West End Theatre above the apse of the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew is the perfect setting for the story. Even the program for this production is one of the best I’ve ever seen, somewhat mimicing the appearance of an ancient hospital chart.

Unfortunately for our performance, the prominent role of Frankenstein’s “creature” was filled by an emergency replacement, Steve Shoup, with just thirty-two hours to prepare. Although Shoup’s performance was admirable, he necessarily had to refer to the script throughout the show, which of course was a bit distracting.

The rest of the cast of mostly-Equity actors did a fine job not only with their lines, but the overall portrayal of their characters as well.

Before the performance, director Cat Parker announced that Doctor Frankenstein is a work-in-progress. Although it’s abundantly clear that a great amount of time, money and effort has gone into making this a production of the highest professional quality, the script itself remains the only part of Doctor Frankenstein that requires further attention.

Analyzing the matter after-the-fact, I believe that the friction between James and Victor is too repetitive, drawing out the story a bit too long and watering-down the tension in the process. Although the concept itself is delightful and the overall plot feels right, attending the show in its current state is like admiring a wide, beautiful river as it flows slowly by.

I also felt like the final scenes were crafted by a different playwright, who was briefed on the story up to the point, but hadn't bothered reading it through and rushed to wrap things up. While the synopsis claims that the physicians in attendance were ghosts, there was no indication of that during the show; and lastly, there was contradiction over whether the meeting was taking place in Frankenstein's home or the operating theater at London Hospital.

I want to be clear that my rating reflects the overall experience of attending more than my enjoyment of the story: like a mediocre bottle of wine that’s been beautifully packaged and carefully marketed to appeal to the emotions of a certain class of buyer, everything about Articulate Theatre Company’s production of Doctor Frankenstein is perfect, as long as you don’t actually try to drink it.

My recommendation, therefore, is to anxiously wait for this work-in-progress script to undergo another couple rounds of workshopping, then attend a future run with the highest of expectations.


Andrew Andrews attended Doctor Frankenstein at West End Theatre in Manhattan on Friday, November 8, 2019 @ 8:00pm to write this review.