‘Frankenstein’, Creature

Day 12 of the Zero to Hero challenge. I was reminded I had been a little behind on my posting, and for some reason Prophecy was that reminder. Thank you!

Part one of two.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Triple, quadruple barrelled names, it’s hard to know where to begin. But, with a big name comes big responsibilities. Or something.

Last October and November, both sides of the coin were replayed in cinemas, and I luckily got to see both.  If the opportunity arises, go see at least one of them. Seriously. The one huge difference of this theatre-viewing in a cinema was that we all, as an audience, had an understanding: it was a pre-recording. It’s a simple consideration, but it definitely put everyone on the same page (for a previous example, see Othello).

The music, outstanding (it was Underworld, after all). The set, simple, understated, malleable, but painfully well-used. The only part of the space untouched was the auditorium, bar the aisle’s use as an actor’s entrance and exit. This is one of my more in-depth posts, so get yourself ready for a tirade of words.

2011. National Theatre. Danny Boyle. Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein, Naomie Harris as Elizabeth. Catherine Ashmore Photography.
2011. National Theatre. Danny Boyle. Catherine Ashmore Photography.

And so begin: for me, Cumberbatch made the better Creature, and Miller the better Creator. However, their approaches to certain parts of the text as either surpassed the other.


Personal taste applies, but the rhythm Cumberbatch used for the Creature’s speech had a strength that Miller’s did not, if for no other reason than consistency. Cumberbatch had clearly worked out a pace for the Creature to speak, meaning that when the Creature shouts/gets excitable, his grasp of language never waivers. But when Miller approached those same moments as the Creature, he seemed to struggle in avoiding theatah stage-speak (bless him).

2011. National Theatre. Danny Boyle. Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature. Catherine Ashmore Photography.

Similarly with stature: there was a fluidity – albeit fragmented – to Cumberbatch’s Creature, limbs and expression all struggling together. With Miller, his movement worked until the monologue struck, and out came the perfect posture and open arms of the stage.

That being said…

I preferred the ending with Miller’s Creature, although he generated a lot of laughter as the Creature during the show, which I couldn’t understand. But after all the turmoil and disgust he creates for himself, when he finally unveils his heart to what he thinks is a dead Frankenstein, it was unbearable. Miller’s Creature was considerably more child-like than Cumberbatch’s in terms of his naivety of the wider world, despite all the knowledge he has gained.

2011. National Theatre. Danny Boyle. Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature. Photography by Catherine Ashmore

So in that moment where he is pouring the wine into Frankenstein’s mouth in the hope that it will bring him back to life, it really did feel like watching a child trying to comprehend death or absolution of something. It was like Neverland all over again, with Peter closing his eyes and seeing his dead mother in his imagination, saying “I can see her” – horrible!

Back to Cumberbatch, I preferred his rape scene as the Creature (there’s a sentence that shouldn’t exist). With Miller, his Creature only seemed to half know what he was doing; Cumberbatch’s did. He knew exactly what and, more importantly, why he raped and killed Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s wife to be). Easily for that chilling reason alone, I ultimately prefer Cumberbatch’s Creature. He has absorbed knowledge, human interaction (good and bad), and puts it all into action.

You are then left with this twisted feeling: sympathy is felt for the Creature’s abandonment, as he is permanently only trying to do good. But the fact that his continuous banishment from Frankenstein and strangers along the way has forced him to do the unspeakable as nothing more than sheer retaliation against his Creator, it leaves the audience in an uncomfortable space. It’s brilliant. With Miller, there is no dichotomy. He is simply a Creature who’s ignorance overpowers any possibility of fathoming what he has done. All that he does know is that it is wrong, and running away is probably a good idea.


The logic of the rape scene… Other than dramatic licence, I am still a little lost. Killing Elizabeth, I get. Frankenstein took from the Creature the possibility of love, so he literally takes the same from Frankenstein. The entire ante of the scene, from when the Creature appears, to when Frankenstein witnesses the rape and killing, is only necessary for the culminating line “Now, I am a man“. Seriously powerful.

Here’s the thing: Frankenstein tried to construct a man, veins, internal organs and a central nervous system to boot. He succeeded. Unlike vampires, the blood flow works; he is not the undead so the logic of ‘how can they procreate?’ isn’t at fault. And it isn’t the issue I’m struggling with. The Creature is thoroughly well-read and, to an extent, learned in human interaction. He is probably no doubt aware of his own genitals and that females have the corresponding due to some late night research with diagrams, BUT, how does he know?

2011. National Theatre. Danny Boyle. Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature, Naomie Harris as Elizabeth. Nigel Norrington Photography.

How does he know that this act will be a desecration of both her body, her word and Frankenstein? We know that Frankenstein created a man with the ability to procreate, but how does he know he has that ability? You think of your average pubescent boy on his first time: it is more a trial and error fumble before succeeding, right? (You don’t have to answer that). But the Creature knows EXACTLY where, how, what position, and the aftermath. Maybe I’m overanalysing, but other than dramatic purposes as stated, I honestly didn’t feel the rape was necessary to the plot, nor do I understand how the Creature came to this eventual conclusion.

All in all, if you get the chance, go see it. It’s two years since it’s first performance, and I don’t think the screenings will be stopping any time soon. If you have seen it, let me know what you think – do you have a favourite or were both versions just too good?


‘Frankenstein’ at the National Theatre

Part two coming next week on the Creator!

8 thoughts on “‘Frankenstein’, Creature

  1. Fabulous. I had a ticket to this (I know it was a few years ago but I remember the buzz so well around this epic show) and caught such a ridiculously bad cough and cold I couldn’t go. Sheer agony to miss out!! this review has helped me feel a little better about missing out!!!! (theatre is SO of the moment, your reviews highlight this brilliantly – it’s totally now or never!!)

    1. Aw no! By the time I found out, it was faaar too late, so when the recordings were due to play again, I had to leap at the chance. And then it turned out it was so popular, they played it again October past, and apparently Boyle wants to get Cumberbatch and Miller back together and do the whole thing again!


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