How Danny Boyle infused new life into 'Frankenstein'

by John Moore | Sep 11, 2016

Left, film and TV stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller originated the alternating stage roles of the Creator and Creature in the National Theatre of London's 'Frankenstein.' Now taking on the challenge for the DCPA Theatre Company are Sullivan Jones and Mark Junek.


In 2011, actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller infused new life into the iconic story of the mad doctor who, ironically, also infused new life into
a cadaver.

Frankenstein had been done to death. There have been more than 100 films, ranging from Boris Karloff’s definitive 1931 portrayal to Mel Brooks’ silly movie and musical parodies. Hard as it might be to believe, Mary Shelley’s classic story turns 200 years old this year. No longer the Modern Prometheus it was originally billed to be.

But the National Theatre’s 2011 stage adaptation was different. The two film stars not only took to the London stage to play the Scientist and the Creature. They traded roles in alternating performances. And the twist was not merely a clever way of intriguing audiences into wanting to see the play twice (though thousands did). It returned the story’s focus to Shelley’s central literary premise, that the Scientist and the Creature were both bonded, distorted and, most importantly, mirror images of each other. They were equals.

Denver Director Sam Buntrock: 'It's life and death. It's big and bold.'

Nick Dear’s script, which will be staged for the first time outside of London with a new cast and creative team by the DCPA Theatre Company starting Sept. 30, is perhaps the only Frankenstein to tell the story of the narcissistic Scientist who builds a man in his own image from the Creature’s voice and point of view.
 
London audiences were overwhelmed. One of Britain’s leading critics called it “a memorable production that will doubtless be spoken of for years to come.” Since then, the performance has been repeatedly broadcast at cinemas throughout America. 

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The idea to have both actors play both roles — a device that will be continued in Denver — was National Theatre Director Danny Boyle’s. It came to him when he recalled seeing a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II as a lad that had the actors playing Richard and Bolingbroke trading parts on alternating nights. The trick can only work when the story is right, and Boyle believes that for Frankenstein, it works.
 
“It’s set in a time where science gives man the right to confront his creator,” Boyle said. “Before then, man has been naturally taken for granted. Now, he can create life himself. It no longer has to be darkness. Now he can create his own light, and therefore he can become the equal of his creator. So to bond the two actors together equally in all ways creates a wonderful dynamic on the stage.”

The U.S. premiere of Nick Dear’s adaptation of Frankenstein will be directed by Sam Buntrock, who is returning to the DCPA after having directed the 2013 world premiere of Ed, Downloaded. Buntrock’s Broadway credits include Sunday in the Park with George. The Denver company will be led by Sullivan Jones (the original Cassius Clay in Rogue Machine Theatre’s production of One Night in Miami…) and Mark Junek (Broadway’s The Performers) alternating performances in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. COMPLETE DENVER CASTING

Pictured above: Sheila Morris of the DCPA Costume Department shows two versions of the same Frankenstein costume under construction for each of the Theatre Company's two actors who will alternate in the role. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

The Danny Boyle quote above comes from an interview by Christopher Frayling at the National Theatre. WATCH THE VIDEO


Photo gallery: The making of Frankenstein in Denver

'Frankenstein' in Denver
Photos from the making of 'Frankenstein' in Denver. To see more, click the forward arrow in the image above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Frankenstein trivia: The actors who played the two main characters in London (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller), both play Sherlock Holmes in different TV series: Sherlock and Elementary, respectively.

Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center.

 

Frankenstein: Ticket information
Frankenstein• Sept. 30-Oct. 30
• Stage Theatre
• ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 23
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829 


Previous NewsCenter coverage:

A Frankenstein 'that will make The Bible look subtle'
Casting set for Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie
Introducing DCPA Theatre Company's 2016-17 season artwork
Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
2016-17 season announcement

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.