This morning I clicked onto the Arts section of The New York Times to be greeted with this image:
Which was pretty much designed to be Anika Chapin catnip, what with it’s general creepiness, inclusion of topless/wounded man/monster, dramatic flair, and flattering red lighting. What, I thought, was THIS?
Well, as it turns out, it’s a production of ‘Frankenstein’ currently happening at London’s National Theater, directed by Danny Boyle. And if it wasn’t enough that it was Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle, it’s starring Jonny Lee Miller (who has pleasantly surprised me with almost everything he does, including being the perfect Mr. Knightley in the recent BBC version of ‘Emma’). And if that wasn’t enough, it is ALSO starring the awesomely-named Benedict Cumberbatch, who stole my nerdy heart as Sherlock Holmes in BBC series ‘Sherlock’, which is amazing and everyone should watch it immediately.
And if THAT wasn’t enough, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller SWITCH ROLES between the monster (whom I would be derelict in my nerdy duties if I didn’t point out is not actually called ‘Frankenstein’, but is rather Frankenstein’s monster) and Dr. Frankenstein.
Put simply, I love when this happens. Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly did it in ‘True West’ a few years ago, and I heard that Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn reportedly switched roles in a production of ‘Becket’ in the 60s. (I’m sure there are other examples, but I’m too lazy to look right now). I can understand why it doesn’t happen very often – it’s hard work for the actors, you must have two actors who are skilled enough to be able to play very different roles, and you run the risk of having a strangely lopsided run if audiences want to see one pairing over the other. And yet, how incredibly exciting! Theater adventure! What is more thrilling than watching truly talented actors display their versatility? Your audience has a giant wild card every night, not knowing which they’ll see! They could even come back twice to see both!! I mean, come on, how cool is this:
So cool, right?
The thing that ultimately makes live theater so thrilling is that it is created anew every night. You in the audience, the people onstage, the stagehands, the props, the weather conditions, all create a special different alchemy each performance. And although switching roles is probably seen by many as a gimmick, I would argue that it adds a special frisson of that same created-fresh excitement that is what makes theater great, in addition to watching great actors show off their versatility.
So in conclusion, well done, ‘Frankenstein’ people, that’s awesome. I can only hope that you are on the phone with some Yankees right now trying to set up a transfer to the Broadway, because I can guarantee my butt will be in a seat at least twice for these guys.
Oh wait, I just read that both actors are naked in the play. Screw the transfer, I’m buying a plane ticket.