Absolutely marvelous, completely original, beautifully realized, funny.
One night as a couple walks their dog, the animal discovers a hulking form frozen under an iced lake. It’s 1946. The body belongs to Frankenstein’s Monster. “They dug him out of a glacier where he’d gone after his Hollywood life… A giant who didn’t eat or sleep could be useful.” Immediately the tongue in cheek tone arrests. Narrators Vicky Allen and Chris Robinson (who both play multiple roles with skill and alacrity) draw us in. We see a hairdryer applied to the large white drop cloth laid over a cabinet.
A local woman (Nicky Harley) falls in love with the creature. “She was 24 and long a spinster by then.” The character wears a scarf on her head. Her sweater is old and threadbare, a wool skirt fits badly, lace-up boots are practical, clumsy; a solidly built mountain peasant. “What are you?” she asks when, cabinet bound, he opens his eyes. “I’ve been dead over 100 years and I’m constructed of different body parts…” comes the reply. “He has a sense of perspective,” a narrator says.
Chris Robinson, Nicky Harley, Rhodri Lewis, Vicky Allen
They exchange life stories. The monster (played by the tall Rhodri Lewis), wears minimal make-up. There are no screws in his head. Shoulders are exaggerated, clothes patched, worn, dirty, boots thick. He’s oddly ingenuous, though having worked in Hollywood, not naive. We accept him. The couple marry. They climb mountains, make love everywhere, and build a hut at the edge of the village. Every time he asks that the dreaded armoire be discarded, she gets him back into bed. Life goes on.
One evening, the couple ventures in to a local bingo game. They’re lied to and ostracized. The Monster gets drunk, carries a hay cart to the peak of a mountain, falls asleep, and dreams of his disastrous affair with Elsa Lanchester (who played his bride in film). She appears (Vicky Allen).
Contrite, he returns home. The couple reignite their love, dancing to “The Way You Look Tonight.” Music throughout is classic 1940s. The Monster and his wife dance several times. Choreography (Sarah Johnson) is appealing, movement made preposterous and humorous by the characters’ shapes and costumes. (Excellent sound design – Garth McConaghie.) “What they argue about: poetry, art, the looming armoire.” The second time the Monster goes on a bender, he loses his wife’s entire flock of 63 sheep. The two search on a blackened stage (and off) with kerosene lanterns, calling out classic Italian names. “The sheep were last seen hightailing it across the border to Italy.” “We could have a worse life,” she shrugs. “There’s no war and we’re in love.”
We track the pair over time. She gets a job as a midwife’s assistant, he as a ski lift operator. (Again, wonderful depiction.) The Monster helps find a lost child resulting in the couple’s invitation to a grateful neighbor’s home. They’re awkwardly accepted. She buys a ramshackle fixer-upper hotel. At the start, checking in is like a Three Stooges comedy with the two narrators playing numerous roles. People walk into and through the armoire and/or around it in rapid, vocally demanding succession. A flirty chambermaid is hired, but it’s the wife who has an (outside) affair. (Uproariously manifest.)
Vicky Allen, Rhodri Lewis, Nicky Harley
There are murders. He’s absolved. The Monster is cast in several Spanish horror films. With the accepting company, he gets stoned for the first time and likes it. We learn “What the Monster knows and can’t accept.” Time passes. The couple visits the city on her birthday. Cue “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” We watch how the marriage evolves. Husband and wife are creative, contributing “people” in intriguing ways. Eventually she dies. He lives on, for many reasons, content.
Details are imaginative and credible in context. All four mult-talented actors are simply splendid. They move beautifully, express with subtlety and, in the case of narrators, turn on a dime. Nothing is overplayed. Much is exuberant. The Monster is sublime.
Scenic design by Ryan Dawson Laight is a stage filled with ladders, stools, lights, trunks, props, two microphones and of course, the cabinet/armoire. Everything is used to amusing advantage. Dawson’s costumes are pitch perfect, singular, not overdone. It’s an everyday marriage at a small village in which the husband has curious pedigree.
Playwright/Director Zoe Seaton delivers an inspired piece – smart, accessible, funny not clownish, and touching; a consistent delight. Pacing hums. Actors portray without undue amplification. That carefully engineered chaos occurs in such small spaces is a marvel; use of the cabinet and ladders clever.
Photos by Neil Harrison
Big Telly Theatre Company as part of Origin Theatre’s First Irish Festival presents
Frankenstein’s Monster is Drunk – And the Sheep Have All Jumped the Fences
Written and Directed by Zoe Seaton
Based on an original short story by Owen Booth
59 East 59th Street
Through January 28, 2023