Manual Cinema’s Frankenstien – Underbelly McEwan Hall

Original Novel by Mary Shelley

Directed by Drew Dir

Runs at Underbelly Bristo Square, July 31st –August 26th (not 12), 14.45pm

Eternally inventive, Chicago based company Manual Cinema are known for their talents of shadow puppetry. Of all the texts in all of the gothic horrors, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a notable difficulty to adapt. With numerous versions – could they do anything new with it? They not only breathe life into the Monster, but they also pay tribute to almost all incarnations which have come before.

It goes further, however, giving not only an account of Shelley’s novel but of her creative reasoning. From the loss of her child to the wager with Lord Byron – the history of Mary Shelley is given some limelight alongside her infamous creation.

You don’t know whether to watch the magic on screen, or the innovation behind the scenes. Your eyes, somehow transfix as the shadows swirl, shimmer and streak across the smoke-stain screens of gothic design, yet still, dart around trying to absorb it all. There’s almost a little too much going on, and at times a distracting sense of chaos.

What’s truly impressive is Manual Cinema’s uncanny ability to demonstrate why this was cinematic. As the Monster takes its first steps, a shift in dimension occurs. Frankenstein crosses the threshold of spectacle at this moment as the camera shadows a puppet of the creature taking its first steps into the world. The angle work here is breathtaking, offering a force of perspective you wouldn’t achieve as efficiently with Theatre.

The puppet, a mess of intricate stitches, spare-parts and emotive eyes is but one of their tools. Performances from the cast as shadow people hark to the aesthetics of expressionist film makers or Robert Wiene and Paul Leni. It is the sound design which lifts the production. A collection of self-playing drums, musicians and effects work to provide a feast for the ears to compliment the already entranced gaze.

Mary Shelley was a revolutionary of science-fiction and gothic horror. Manual Cinema are paying her in kind, improving the relationship between theatre and cinema. A connection as old as technology would allow, it is garnering praise for embracing artistries tools of puppetry, make-up and lighting.

In the final moments, there’s a beautiful addendum to the tale, the monsters swansong, its final moments are given new life, by Manual Cinema. Reminding us that the only person to ever love the creature, was its creator – and no, not the Doctor. Shelley needed her Modern Prometheus just as he was longing for a parent. Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is the result of a team with near mastery of their craft.

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Bobby & Amy – Pleasance Courtyard

Written & Directed by Emily Jenkins

Runs at Pleasance Courtyard from July 31st – August 26th (not 12th) 12.45pm

Friends, though not at first, Bobby & Amy live their days like, dare say, a great many of us did. They have trouble at home, the hidden side of country small-town life. Both of them bullied, Amy for her peculiarities and Bobby for his savant capabilities, shamelessly referred to as ‘spastic’. They find each other though, companionship with several dozen dairy cows.

Set in the fields of the Cotswolds, predating and following the Foot and Mouth epidemic of the early 2000s – Emily Jenkins captures, in essence, something few else have done. Theatre around this is near non-existent, and as someone who grew up in a tiny farming-village, Jenkins captures the community crushing realism savagely.

Bobby & Amy sits comfortably with those productions which cover the loss of innocence and heartache. As such, comedy has a vital role in balancing things out. A lot of this lies in the lunacy of the townsfolks interactions, misunderstandings and slapstick.

Starring Will Howard and Kimberley Jarvis, Jenkins has struck gold with these phenomenal character performers. With twenty plus residents of the village, you would think one or two of them might be half-arsed, or just not up to scratch as the rest. Quite the contrary, despite only two performers on-stage each one of these neurotics has an individual personality, slouch or physical attribute and story behind them.

While stitching your sides back together, Jenkins writing, particularly authentic, has surprising warmth. Yet it takes chances, not for shock or awe but because it feels right. It’s a timeless tale, and while you can sense a late nineties vibe, it’s frozen in sepia of bruised knees, trees and hay bale tipping.

Bobby and Amy’s companionship feels tangible, as Amy discovers how to respond to Bobby’s unique brilliance, just as Bobby gains a tighter grasp of everyday life. Jarvis and Howard, for all their mayhem as side-characters, are enthralling as Amy and Bobby. The pre-teen angst, just on the cusp of childhood and teenage dramas, they bring a heap of top-class acting.

With its stripped-back set-up of two performers, an all-female production team and a poignant, enduring script, Bobby & Amy is a testament to the beauty of live theatre. Audiences have begun to get wind of the production’s quality, so while you can, take a trip to the Cotswold’s where you’ll laugh, smile and likely shed a tear or two.

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