Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein must rank among English literature’s most-debased, least-appreciated works. So if you’re yearning for a play which gets back to the original text, explaining its context and exploring its subtle themes… then for goodness’ sake don’t choose this one! Frankenstein Unbolted is a cheerfully silly, wilfully anachronistic gallop, which owes very little to Shelley’s original plot. But it’s creative too, avoiding all the usual clichés, and offers plenty of uncomplicated giggles to set you up for a night on the Fringe.
In Last Chance Saloon’s version of the tale, Frankenstein’s creation is far from a monster – but an urbane, agreeable man-about-town, anxious to learn about life and embody all that’s best about humanity. Until, that is, he takes a sip of alcohol, when he comically transforms into a laddish boor. This is Frankenstein with a dash of Jekyll and Hyde, relocated to a university town on a Saturday night in term-time. Mix in a barrow-load of modern references, and you’re left with a setting which makes almost no sense but feels nicely familiar all the same.
At its best, it’s sharp and very, very funny. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the stage to fully appreciate the earliest scenes, which feature a procession of visual gags to accompany the commendably straightforward narrative. There are songs as well, putting witty new lyrics to popular karaoke standards, and some comedic doubling-up of roles (with the inevitable consequences when an unfortunate combination of characters is required on the stage). It’s a time-worn formula and a few of the jokes are recycled too – but hey, the old ones are the best, after all.
Sadly though, it doesn’t feel like Frankenstein Unbolted is quite finished yet. The high-energy tomfoolery stands in contrast to a handful of much slower sections, which stretch a single joke so far that it can’t help but break. Perhaps that’s a deliberate attempt to mix up the pace, but it lets too much of the energy ebb away, and at times it comes across dangerously like padding.
So the play as a whole doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of its opening scenes, but the acting’s of a consistently high standard – and there is enough of the knockabout humour to send you out of the theatre with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart. It’s early days at the Fringe, and if they can raise the pace of the whole play to match the start and the end, Last Chance Saloon’s Frankenstein Unbolted will really come alive.