Forget the Universal and Hammer Horror monsters—Jupiter Theatre’s production of Frankenstein is as close as theatre audiences will get to a true adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 200-year-old masterpiece.
The production brings the supernatural and thriller elements of the classic Gothic novel to life through the spark of theatre magic.
Using masks, puppetry, prosthesis, and makeup, Frankenstein goes beyond what most performers can do themselves naturally.
“Puppetry specifically allows us to do things on stage that we don’t think we’d otherwise be able to,” said Andrew Cooper, director and playwright for Frankenstein.
“Without too many spoilers, the character William who’s Victor [Frankenstein’s] younger brother, he does some things that an actor, and especially a child actor, would just not be able to do on stage.”
Cooper is a trained puppeteer who has worked with Alberta Theatre Projects, Citadel Theatre, Theatre Calgary, and Ghost River Theatre on stage. He also has performed in front of the camera, working as a puppeteer on the 2022 reboot of Fraggle Rock, and on the Foo Fighters’ Fraggle Rock music video.
“I picked up so many techniques from doing my own theatre puppetry in the past, and then training as a puppeteer with the Jim Henson Company and on Fraggle Rock, and I’m putting all that together now,” Cooper said.
He said that using puppets allows Frankenstein to both push what is possible on stage, but also creates an atmosphere that invites the audience into something different than they’ve seen before.
“I hope audiences will come away from saying, ‘oh wow, I’ve never seen anything like that before,'” Cooper said.
“We’ve taken the story from the novel and turned it into something that’s highly theatrical. There’s also movement elements and design, and it’s very striking and visual. So it’s something that I think people are going to be really excited to see.”
Frankenstein runs from March 23 through April 2 at the West Village Theatre. Tickets are available through the Festival of Animated Objects, which runs from March 4 through April 2, at festival-of-animated-objects.tickit.ca/events/18314-frankenstein.
Loss, ambition… and love?
The story of a scientist driven by the ambition to create life has been a story that has been with Cooper for a long time.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of this outcast. I think that’s something that really speaks to me, and I think it speaks to a lot of people, and how outcasts are perceived and how they’re treated.”
The production focuses mainly on Frankenstein’s creature, following its creation by a young Victor Frankenstein through to the end of its existence.
“We’re looking at that side of the story in conjunction with a young Victor Frankenstein dealing with loss in his own life, and obsession and ambition,” Cooper said.
“The allegory of really comes from Paradise Lost—this sort of like fall from grace, which we pull from the text. Then, in terms of the actual production staging it, we’re using a lot of masks to bring the supernatural elements to life.”
Those masks are at times augmented by veils and dramatic lighting to create spooky supernatural effects.
Mike Tan is also donning prostheses and heavy makeup for the play.
“It’s not going to look like the 1931 Universal [Pictures] monster. It’s inspired right from the text. We’re trying to give a sense of the grotesque to create an outcast… and a lot of it is in the physicality of the performer,” Cooper said.
“[Mike Tan] does so much excellent work both with his speech, the text, as well as with his body, his physicality.”
Cooper said that the tone of this production is not one of horror, but rather more akin to a thriller. Perhaps less expected for audiences used to the original Universal and Hammer Horror versions, a love story.
The romance between Victor Frankenstein and his doomed love, Elizabeth, plays a central role. But so too the love of The Creature for his creator.
“I think that at its core, at the centre of this story, is still about love as well as about ambition.”
Engaging with something more than the real
Cooper said that as he has continued to read and re-read the original novel, he has continued to find a depth of story and layers to be explored using the theatre.
“Because it’s theatre, I wanted to find ways to use what theatre does best. In my opinion, that’s engaging the imagination,” Cooper said.
“When you’re watching a film, [what] you’re seeing is what you get. In the world of theatre, what we’re using is the language of symbolism and metaphor. So these puppets and the masks are those extra layers that are in the original novel.”
Chris Clare is playing Alphonse Frankenstein and Monsieur de Lacey; Austin Halarewich as Victor Frankenstein, Mike Tan as The Creature; Carolina Contreras Issa as Justine Moritz; Ashley King as Agatha de Lacey; Madeline Hunter Smith as Elizabeth Lavenza; and Liam Whitley as Henry Clerval and Felix de Lacey.
The play was written and directed by Cooper, with lighting design by Skylar Desjardins, set designs by Jared Raschke, costumes by Yvonne Ustick.
Music and sound was composed by Lukas Vanderlip, with makeup design by Alexis Ly.
For more information on Frankenstein, see www.theatrejupiter.com/frankenstein.