Review: Frankenstein und Danny Boyle Q&A beim Shuffle Festival

Für die deutsche Version des Artikels klickt bitte hier: Shuffle Festival

On Tuesday we went down to the Shuffle Festival at Mile End, London to see a screening of Frankenstein followed by a Q&A with director Danny Boyle and the 2 musicians from Underworld who wrote the score for the play.

photo 1

Shuffle is a festival with 11 days of cinema, theatre, music and art. The choice of location to host such a festival appeared rather odd to me at the beginning: St. Clement’s Hospital, a Victorian psychiatric hospital. Why would anyone want to host a festival there? But I learnt that Boyle once living nearby, had been able to peer at St. Clement’s out of his window. This piece of info combined with his enthusiasm for community life and maintaining the spirit of the Olympic Games as well as his preference for interesting filming locations made it perfect sense. With a café and bar, food stalls, free short movies and an art gallery there was lots to discover.

Tuesday 13th was the Olympic Day at the Festival. Starting at 4pm they showed the Opening Ceremony, and to everyone’s surprise working men and women who were involved in the ceremony staged the industrial revolution part live on the side. Below a snippet of their performance:

In the evening Frankenstein was shown on two screens. The indoor audience got to see the version which features Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein while the outdoor audience got to see the reversed casting.  Showing both versions is no coincidence as Danny Boyle told us. He, the cast and the National Theatre have agreed that every time the play is shown as a public screening, whether at a cinema or at a festival, they have to show both versions.
We can also consider ourselves lucky to even have a filmed version as the cast and creative’s involved were very reluctant to the idea. Their work was intended for a live audience and in order to reach the people at the back of the circle at the Olivier theatre the actors had to give everything, and in contrast the cameras were close to the stage, and every actor knows that if a camera is close to you you don’t push it. So they had to reconcile both things, and so they left it up to the actors.

photo 2

Following are some of the highlights from the Q&A (If you have seen the platform event with Nick Dear and Danny Boyle some of the following will sound familiar):

The idea for Frankenstein:
Nick Dear (writer of Frankenstein) and Danny Boyle discussed the idea of the play in the early 1990s when they were both working on The last Days of Don Juan for The RSC. The first drafts were close to the novel, until they had the idea to open the play from the Creature’s point of view and giving it its voice back which it had lost throughout most movie adaptations. Nick Dear already had children at that time, so the evolution of the play from the kid’s point of view came naturally.

Birth scene:
In rehearsals they explored the idea of having a pool of slime, like amniotic fluid, around the sack where the Creature comes out. Although it looked and worked fantastically they had to give up on it, because the stage would have been too slippery for actors to perform.
The actors had lots of fun exchanging comments they heard from audience members in the front row while hanging in the sack for 20mins before each performance.

The End:
In many movies the ending varies, in some Frankenstein dies, in some the Creature dies. Nick Dear and Danny Boyle decided to stay close to the novel where both characters end up in the wilderness. When they decided that Victor and the Creature are bond together in death in the ending they had already discussed the idea of double casting.

Alternating Roles and rehearsals:
Danny Boyle took the idea of alternating Benedict and Jonny from seeing the RSC in Stratford alternating the roles of Richard II and Bolingbroke when he was in school.
During rehearsals the actors started to get to know each other well enough to not feel inhibited and confident enough to say “hey, that’s clever, you don’t mind borrowing?” But in the end they share the same script and bring their own characteristics to the role.
Although it did go wrong a few times in the big scenes where only Benedict and Jonny were on stage. They said the lines the wrong way around, most of the time the audience didn’t notice, but Danny Boyle just saw them looking at each other “how do we get around this time”…
In fairness to the actors they had the same amount of previews for each role, two press nights and two NT Live recordings (although NT only wanted to film one version). Who went first was decided by the toss of a coin.
To research for the roles they went to an autopsy at St. Thomas Hospital which is difficult to get into because they had to have permission from relatives. But they got lucky and had a 40year old man who died of a drug overdose and had no relatives. Danny Boyle pointed out to the audience at this point that everyone should see an autopsy because it’s really extraordinary. (We also got insight knowledge that once they have removed the brain they can’t put it back in so they bury you with your brain inside your tummy.)

Underworld and the music:
Karl Hyde and Nick Smith were present during the rehearsal period and worked closely with the cast, so that there was a natural evolution. The cast picked up on the music very quickly and started dancing around to it. Sometimes the musicians only had 20 mins to come up with a tune, because it had to go into The Book (The Book being a prompt copy which includes all notes and cues of the play.).
Danny Boyle was very clear about the tone for some sequences (specific in rhythm, sound, music). By the way, he used the part of the industrial revolution as an audition for the Olympic Games.

Danny Boyle on directing theatre:
You have to prep the actors for a run of 8-12 weeks, and make sure that they have enough energy which includes protecting their voice and body, so they’ll be able to give their best in every single performance, whereas in film you just ask them to go for it.
During rehearsals you create a bond with the actors, and they need you as a director. But as soon as they go in front of the audience they start to speak to you differently, and literally push you away. For example when you give notes to them they react with something like “yeah, with respect…”. But it’s okay, because it’s now about them, and their bond with the audience. If you are still useful for one thing you come back in 3 weeks to see how brilliantly it has developed in your absence.

Danny Boyle’s advice to aspiring actors:
If you are crazy enough to do it you will get there in your own way wherever that is. But there is no common answer, because it’s different for different people. And people who do it for the wrong reason (fame, money etc.) are more likely to give it up, because it is hard work.