Frankenstein – National Trust Sutton House


“Men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood” – Mary Shelley

A review by Tanya Howard

On the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein being released, which was originally published anonymously, Tea Break Theatre have created an immersive theatre experience of the famous tale. Director and writer Katherine Armitage wanted to invest a feminine twist into the show after years spent playing the game of ‘find the women’ where remarkable women seem to be written out of stories and history itself.

I personally haven’t read the story of Frankenstein but I have seen it portrayed in many different ways across screen and stage but one thing that has always remained the same is that the creature has always been a man. Katherine’s theory however is that the creature is in fact a woman, created by a man who is desperate to defeat death after losing his mother, designed to be beautiful and obedient but destined to be a disappointment. She thinks that maybe Mary wrote the creature as a man because she was already breaking a lot of rules it would be a step too far to have a female, non-romantic lead, but she kept the speech and behaviour to that of a woman.

Set in Sutton House the play also takes inspiration from the squatters who occupied the premises in the 1980s, transforming it into an arts space and stopping a demolition to ultimately shape the house’s future. The show itself starts with everyone sat in the large main hall with the squatters as they sit around and tell each other ghosts stories before realising they all had the same dream the night before. A spark of life, a flash… and something new is created. A scientist brings life from death, and suddenly we are within the story of Frankenstein.

The play takes the audience throughout Sutton House, the house of the Frankensteins, but also intertwines you into each characters life. Don’t get too comfortable as during the show you are given a coloured wristband and you must pay attention to moments where an actor leaves the room with your colour as you need to follow them and see a little deeper into their story. Whilst I enjoyed the thrill of not knowing what would come next or who we would find out more about, I did spend a bit of this time wondering what I missing and what everyone else was getting to see but that could just be my nosey nature.

I loved how Katherine explored the female side of Frankenstein and the cast portrayed the different aspects of their characters really well. Elizabeth, played by Jennifer Tyler, was a loving mother figure to her younger brother after Victor’s mother who adopted her died from an illness she had given her. She held the family together despite holding on to the guilt over mother dying, and was strong in ways the family hadn’t realised, shown the most when she stared down the creature without a hint of fear in her.

The creature that Victor brought to life was supposed to be the ideal woman to replace his mother but she failed to live up to his expectations and so she was abandoned and left to tackle the world alone. Exploring the house she has been left in the creature teaches herself to read and learns about the world but after an accident which ends in the death of the youngest of the Frankenstein brood you begin to wonder who truly is the monster.

Begging Victor to give her a child, brought back from the dead, so that she will have someone to love and who will love look upon her without fear the creature gives him an ultimatum that if she doesn’t get what she wants she will kill everyone he loves. At first Victor agrees to give her a child but at the last minute changes his mind and as such bloodshed and torment ensues. Whilst the creature is ultimately at fault for the deaths within the family, had she not been created and deserted by Victor the whole situation could have been avoided but his obsession with science and his mother wouldn’t allow him to let go of the idea, an idea that originally came from his friend Justine.

So who is the monster, the one who physically put their hands around a neck and squeezed until the breath left another’s body or are the hands of the creator to blame. The show explores how female identity is shaped by patriarchy and how women are then punished when they don’t live up to certain expectations, a fate many of us still live by today. How many times have you felt bad about yourself because of how a man has made you feel, or have felt like a let down because you haven’t lived up to what is expected of you no matter how unachievable it may be. An interesting and unique take on a classic, with a fun and frightful element.

Photo Credit: John Wilson