There’s a sudden appetite for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to become a transmedia spectacle. Filmmaker Danny Boyle is currently directing an adaptation of the classic Victorian novel for the National Theatre (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles as Frankenstein and his Creature), which was also broadcast to selected cinemas around the world. And last night, BBC3 delivered the horror-musical Frankenstein’s Wedding (a modern spin on Shelley’s masterpiece), which went out live to the nation from Leeds’ Kirkstall Abbey, where 12,000 people had gathered to be part of the performance.
There was ambition to Frankenstein’s Wedding, that much is definitely true, but this live 80-minute spectacle was a mostly laborious and underwhelming flop. A great idea, but the execution didn’t fulfill its promise. Opening on Kirkstall Abbey (after a weird intro from DJ Reggie Yates) the live audience were playing the wedding guests for the fictional nuptials of scientist Victor Frankenstein (Andrew Gower) and his beloved Elizabeth Lavenza (Lacey Turner), as father-of-the-groom Alphonse (Mark Williams) fussed around trying to ensure the ceremony ran smoothly. The biggest problem was how many scenes were actually pre-recorded, as the live show often stopped to “flashback” to pre-wedding day events, where Frankenstein created and lost control of his Creature (David Harewood), before suffering the tragic death of his younger brother.
There was an immediate disconnect with the event, as the slightly shoddy Abbey-set moments alternated with the comparative glossiness of the readymade scenes. It gave everything a distracting and ragged atmosphere, where you’d get used to humming mic’s and shaky camerawork, before the story would switch to something quite slick. Heaven knows what the crowd thought of it all, stuck watching the majority of this event on giant TV screens in the cold evening air. As if to compensate, occasionally there would be a live musical performance of songs like Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” or a choral version of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, but such moments were oddly integrated into the plot and never rose above karaoke standard.
There was just no passion, pace, or humour to Frankenstein’s Wedding. It failed in its objective as a comedy (Mark Williams was comic relief ostensibly holding it together), it definitely wasn’t scary (the Creature being born wrapped in a full-body doily saw to that), and the musical element struggled to create a buzzing atmosphere. Maybe it was more palatable if you were there watching in person, but no sense of fun translated through the airwaves.
If you were expecting something akin to the gothic campery of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you’ll have been terribly underwhelmed by the general turgidness of this programme. Not to mention the distracting atmosphere all live TV shows can’t avoid — where the audience are watching with constant anxiety about something going wrong, or even hoping something will go wrong to alleviate boredom. Live television presenting offers immediacy, live theatre is a real experience, but live television drama is just an uncomfortable endurance.
Credit to the actors for struggling gamefully through the fiasco — particularly Jemima Rooper (Lost In Austen) as maid of honour Justine, who coped best with the acting and even sang to a decent standard. Lacey Turner (no stranger to this format after EastEnders’ live episode) also acquitted herself well, particularly in the latter third. Andrew Gower (Monroe) wasn’t too bad and, like the rest of the cast, appeared to grow more confident in the final act. David Harewood did what he could as the ostracized and mumbling Creature (making his way across the city to interrupt his creator’s wedding), although his unintentionally amusing performance was essentially that of a brain-damaged Tony Todd.
Frankenstein’s Wedding wasn’t an abject failure, because once the story started to focus on the wedding ceremony itself, the event started to justify itself as most scenes played out live infront of the crowd. And by that time, expectations had sunk so low that you could openly giggle at the ridiculousness of moments like Frankenstein singing Athlete’s “Wires” to his second creation.
If this special has been more intentionally absurd, resplendently camp, fast-paced, spookier, and gorier, it may have overcome its many flaws. Instead, the tone was too serious; proceeding to suck the life out of the occasion with its snail’s pace and annoying format. It’s hard to imagine anyone had a good time watching this (even goths and emos would have found it pedestrian and dull), although it’s admittedly good to see BBC3 try something bold and creative.
WRITER: Chloe Moss
DIRECTOR: Colin Teague
CAST: Gary Carr, Andrew Gower, David Harewood, Michael Higgs, Andrew Knott, Anthony Lewis, Pearce Quigley, Jemima Rooper, Lacey Turner & Mark Williams
TRANSMISSION: 19 March 2011, BBC Three, 8PM
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This article was first posted on March 20, 2011