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Frankenstein: The Metal Opera
The Space
30th October 2014


Publicity image for Frankenstein: The Metal Opera

Photography provided by The Space

There seems to be endless ways to update and innovate Mary Shelley's 1818 classic Frankenstein, as much modern sci-fi can attest. Buffy's Adam, Shelley Jackson's hypertext piece Patchwork Girl and... ummm... I, Frankenstein all owe a debt to her work. While many adaptations either remain truly in the past, or bring it so up to date as to divorce itself directly from the original, Richard Campbell has chosen to splice the old Gothic horror with modern goth heavy metal. The result is a hardcore harmony of horror and opera, appropriately enough in Halloween week in a converted church.

Like the original novel, the majority of the story is a recounted tale from a ship with an ambitious captain, Walton (James Craze), who encounters the unfortunate and haunted (fairly literally) doctor, Victor Frankenstein (Roy Ryan). Ryan's impressive voice and range take the lead in a cast chock-full of superb performances and, as the anchor, the consistency of his delivery creates a very engaging show. As he recounts his tale to Walton, we are introduced to his fiancée Elizabeth (Anya Hamilton), again whose cracking vocal style that reminds us that this is a romantic horror. Her consumptive and delicate physique contrast starkly against the solid, harsh male characters.

The extended flashback scenes are delineated well by deliberate changes in the set, although we see most of the setting of the boat, Frankenstein's house and The Laboratory present throughout. This slightly over-obvious setting makes sure we can appreciate the Rock Band (Campbell, Rhys Llewellyn, Michael Pettit), whose range extends through the soulful acoustic guitar to full-on death metal.

The crowning glory of all Frankenstein adaptations is, of course, the monster (Duncan Drury) and that is certainly true here. While not wanting to give too much away about the chilling reveal, I can certainly attest to the gore. Lots of gore. Ali Reith and Fabiola Bastianelli's make-up is unarguably detailed, and completely in fitting with the horror theme. Drury's staggering (or is it lurching?) performance captures both the raw pain of the abandoned anger of the creature born of pain, and the loneliness and destitution of the unloved soul destined to die in madness and pain (Okay, there's a lot of pain, but we're talking dyed-in-the-cloth Goth here). If it sounds melodramatic, remember that it's meant to be, but it feels raw and energetic enough to be captivating.

Victor's guilt over his neglected wife, unnatural creation and unholy lengths to which he went to achieve his aims, all accumulate into some very dark soulful numbers which cut through the physical drama and bring the focus back on the story. The harmonies between him and Elizabeth are spot on, and although there were some parts that were hard to hear near the end. And there were some slight problems on the bottom notes from Drury that could have been delivered more powerfully; he is a lightning-powered monster after all (maybe some amplified distortion) but clear enough from where I was sitting. The chorus (Charlotte de Paeztron and Max Panks) were also on form, with impeccable timing if slightly downplayed voices.

Kudos to Sarah Sage's lighting design, as well as Paul Campbell's set and Barbara Campbell's props. The crazy Gothic plays on perspective and angles in the laboratory are cleverly contrasted by the order and sanity of the house's picture frames. The use of empty frames to show the haunting absence of those who died on Frankenstein's path to glory was a nice touch too. The final deconstruction of the whole set in the last scene also gave the whole show a cataclysmic close. I was expecting something a little more electrifying and "zappy" with the lightning, nevertheless, the spooky, other-worldly feel was artfully conveyed.

The real question is, how well does Campbell's interpretation of the source material transfer into his metal opera composition? It is clear that it has been cleverly worked into a stage production, though it is possible to see the seams, with some songs exposition and others feelings-based soliloquies which can get repetitive. Despite its arguably difficult musical genre, it feels surprisingly accessible for non-metal fans, justified by the (seemingly oxymoronic) mainstream-Gothic idea of the familiar Frankenstein story. But metal fans are also likely to find something to enjoy here, even if they may baulk at the more romanticised pieces. Still, with all the adaptations in mind, Campbell's grand opus proves this modern Prometheus' creation has life in it yet.

Frankenstein: The Metal Opera ran from 28th October to 1st November 2014 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)

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