Distilled to its essence the ballet Frankenstein may well have worked; but the novel includes a detailed social setting with a numerous cast of characters, and the choreographer Liam Scarlett opts to include every single character, every single episode, thereby fatally diluting the focus of his work.
It remains a mystery how Liam Scarlett, such a gifted choreographer of cohesive and focussed abstract ballets, where not a step is superfluous, has produced such a structurally flawed, often flaccid work.
No amount of good dancing and effective staging can disguise the flaws of Scarlett’s Frankenstein.
In the first cast Royal Ballet Principal Federico Bonelli, a dancer who appears not to age, reprises the role of Victor Frankenstein, both his dancing and acting meticulous and convincing. San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer Wei Wang (replacing an injured William Bracewell) creates powerful pathos as The Creature, whose powerful longing for the love of his creator turns to murderous violence when he is spurned.
James Hay is Frankenstein’s friend Henry Clerval, and the ever engaging Laura Morera returns as Frankenstein’s childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Lavenza.
The Royal Ballet, Frankenstein, Federico Bonelli as Victor, Laura Morera as Elizabeth (c) ROH 2016 Bill Cooper
Beyond that Scarlett calls on a large cast – Victor’s parents, his little brother, the housekeeper, her daughter, the anatomy professor, and any number of servants, medical students and guests at Victor’s wedding. All are given a lot to do, seldom to best effect.
So, there’s plenty of dancing by the servants, in a household saying a boisterous and lengthy farewell to Victor as he leaves for medical school.
Incongruously, there is a lot of vigorous dancing by the medical students and four female attendants in the autopsy room, where the Professor (Thomas Whitehead) eventually demonstrates the effect of electricity on dead flesh – a key development, of course, as it inspires Victor’s own attempts to bring the dead to life, but it takes a very long time to get there.
Act III opens with an extended ball scene celebrating Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding, surely Scarlett’s homage to Ashton’s La Valse: even Lowell Liebermann’s score contains more than a passing nod to Ravel’s music.
The scenes featuring The Creature are powerful and affecting. Its lurking in the background watching the goings on in the Frankenstein household, its attempts to insert itself in it and become a part of a normal, loving family are simultaneously moving and horrifying.
However, the long ensemble scenes and much of the rather pointless and not very interesting dancing fatally dilute The Creature’s impact.
Lowell Libermann’s grand score is atmospheric and moody, its ominous strings stridently marking the high points of horror; John Macfarlane’s elegant and suggestive sets anchor the action, be it in the Frankenstein household or in the autopsy room; David Finn’s lighting design and Finn Ross’s projections are particularly striking in the scene where big jolts of electricity bring The Creature to life.
In the end, though, Frankenstein’s high production values cannot rescue what is essentially a flawed, self-sabotaging structure.
Age Guidance: 12+
|What||The Royal Ballet, Frankenstein Review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
05 Mar 19 – 23 Mar 19, 19:30 Sat 23 March mat 13:30 Dur.: 2 hours 55 mins including 2 intervals
|Website||Click to book|