Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review: Liam Scarlett's 'Frankenstein' at the Royal Opera House

Coinciding with the bicentenary of the notorious ‘Summer of 1816’, Liam Scarlett’s adaptation of Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece 'Frankenstein' was screened in cinemas nationwide last week, live from the Royal Opera House. A co-production by the Royal Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, this adaptation featured Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein, Laura Morera as Elizabeth Lavenza, and Steven MacRae as The Creature.

As Scarlett’s first full-length work for the main stage, this was a bold undertaking; the novel, written in epistolary form, grapples with some pretty heavy philosophical themes that are difficult to convey visually. And yet, the ballet is a surprisingly appropriate arena for a story about testing the parameters of the human anatomy.

Accompanied by a haunting original score by composer Lowell Liebermann, Scarlett’s visceral production succeeds in transposing the inner turmoil of Shelley’s characters into dance, vividly animating and embodying the dark emotions that bubble below the surface.

The production boasts an impressive period set designed by John McFarlane, which includes a full-size operating theatre complete with grisly medical paraphernalia. In the pivotal scene, seemingly lifted straight from Shelley’s waking dream, a replica 19th century electrostatic machine crackles overhead as Victor administers the vitals shocks necessary to wake his creation. It seems a shame that the general press were unroused by this electricity…

(Warning: Spoilers)

They just don't make 'em like they used to...

As the Guardian’s Luke Jennings has observed, Scarlett’s interpretation possesses a good deal more sentimentality than the source material. In keeping with classical ballet, Victor and Elizabeth skilfully but dutifully perform the central pas de deux in each act, but it is the Creature – exquisitely danced by Steven McRae - who steals the show. At once terrible and beautiful, the Creature embodies Burkean sublimity in his graceful yet violent movements. Towards the end of the final act, creator and creation share an intense pas de deux that literalises the uncanny doubling and grotesquely emphasises their simultaneous likeness and asymmetry.

Moreover, the ending controversially steers away from Shelley’s narrative in the last act, wherein we see Victor take his own life, leaving the Creature bereft. However, I found these transgressions easy to overlook as I was thoroughly taken in by the action. Contrary to Mark Monahan’s unforgiving review in the Telegraph, I applaud Scarlett’s ambition in taking on a project of this magnitude. While I am no dance expert, I can perhaps appreciate Scarlett’s engagement with the Gothic better than some of his scathing critics. As an adaptation, liberties can (and often ought to be) taken in an effort to revitalise the original text. Scarlett succeeds in dissecting Shelley’s novel and reassembling its components so that the ‘body’ of the story is resurrected in a new, distorted form. Scarlett succeeds in giving the Creature an eloquent voice through dance, which Shelley would have undoubtedly approved of.

Some of the ensemble sequences featuring the appropriately-titled corps de ballet are, admittedly, a little tedious when they cease to further the plot. However, Scarlett makes good use of the ROH’s large company when choreographing a shock-inspiring public hanging scene for Justine. My only real objection is that I thought McRae’s exhilarating performance as the Creature deserved more stage time than Victor and Elizabeth’s romance, which failed to move me in the same way as the forlorn Creature’s frantic attempt to resuscitate his creator in the final moments of Act 3.

Carly Stevenson is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Sheffield. She finds 'Frankenstein' 'electrifying'!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Post-Mortem: Reimagining the Gothic, Monsters and Monstrosities

For an event that began life as a half-baked idea discussed on a train station bench, it’s astounding how "Reimagining the Gothic" has grown. Now on its second year, "Reimaginings" has expanded to include participants from all over the UK and beyond, and has inspired the development of a number of websites, networks, and other Gothic resources.

Dr. Katy Soar presents her interdisciplinary paper on archaeology and the Gothic

But whilst we would love to take all the credit for how quickly "Reimaginings" has taken off, it really is down to our amazing contributors. We actually do relatively little besides facilitate and promote the fantastic research our contributors create. This year we were able to expand "Reimagining the Gothic" into a two day event, separating the symposium and the showcase. We were fortunate to receive a number of diverse and unique abstracts, which proved to be fascinating papers on everything from vampiric trees to pop up books. At our showcase, we were able to host papers accompanied by dramatic readings and audio-visual presentations alongside creative projects. We even featured a book launch!

Sarah Keegan and Camilla Prince discuss Sarah's make-up and prosthetic display 

The Gothic has always been a genre, form and area of academic focus that has invited and encouraged us to look beyond the traditional, to reconsider and (forgive me) reimagine culture and society. With "Reimagining the Gothic", we aimed to create an event that bought academics together with artists and to break the boundaries between academia and the public. With this year’s Reimagining the Gothic: Monsters and Monstrosities, we demonstrated the real scope and potential within the Gothic for new conversations and perspectives. 

Yin-Hsuan Liang shows off her mask
Sandra Mills presents her paper at the symposium

Jennifer Richards and Evan Hayles Glendhill discuss their research 

Dr. Xavier Aldana Reyes gives the public lecture on 'Re-thinking the Monstrous-Feminine" at the showcase

Steven Guscott launches his new book "The Diary of V. Frankenstein" 

Getting our nails done at the charity nail bar

Jen Baker makes a mask in the Lil' Monsters Children's Corner

Evan Hayles Gledhill and Ellie Waters enjoy some Cake and Death!!


For us at Sheffield Gothic, it was an honour to host so many fantastic speakers and presenters- I can only hope that next year we can continue our quest for total world domination!