It’s been a busy month for live theatre at the Hothouse with the London Horror Festival going hell for leather down at Camden Town’s Etcetera Theatre. Wednesday night took this roving (or should that be raving) reporter down into East London’s Isle of Dogs, where in the suitably Gothic surroundings of the Victorian Presbyterian Chapel that is the Space Theatre I eagerly awaited the performance of Frankenstein: The Metal Opera.
Inside the deconsecrated Presbyterian chapel the atmosphere was like a rock concert, with drums and microphones perched on the stage. Over the excited hubbub we could hear the howling of the Arctic winds, the creaking of the ship’s timbers, and the band (Richard Campbell on drums, Rhys Llewellyn on bass and Michael Pettit on guitar) took to the stage and rocked into the overture. Then we were on the ship trapped in the ice as Walton (James Craze) and his crew drag Victor Frankenstein (Roy Ryan) from the seas and the story unfolds.
Frankenstein: The Metal Opera is pretty faithful to Mary Shelley’s narrative, although some of the story and characters have been cut to bring the show in at just over an hour. As the narrative unfolds, the character of the explorer Walton and his crew act as the chorus stringing the series of events together, with Walton in particular acting as a sounding board for Victor’s conscience as the creature kills his brother and his nanny Justine is framed and sent to the gallows for the murder.
Gothic horror and metal are natural bedfellows, and this is what saves Frankenstein: The Metal Opera from the fate of so many bland musical stage productions. Richard Campbell’s score gallops along, reminding me at times of Iron Maiden’s majestic prowling, at others of Nightwish’s symphonic pomp with the odd bit Alice Cooper theatricality and Michael Nyman atmospherics thrown in. That’s not to say that the music is derivative because it isn’t, but it certainly isn’t anything like the homogenised trilling of a West End or Broadway musical.
All the performers sang well and the costumes, props and make up (all crowd funded through KickStarter) were pretty good. Special mention must go to the creature played by Duncan Drury who had a splendid set of very realistic fake scars on his body and head. He must have been boiling under the lights, but still put on a bravura performance.
Given the intimate nature of The Space, there is only room for three rudimentary sets; As befitting its place wrapping around the story, Walton’s ship sits centre stage, with a domestic sitting room-come-bedroom to the right and, on the left, a rather nice laboratory with sloping shelves and other props giving a nod to the German expressionist origins of the lab design in Universal’s 1931 original. The show also makes use of imaginative lighting projected into the space above the band.
The original concept album is available on iTunes and Amazon, as well as on CD from Richard Campbell Music.
You can also read our interview with Richard Campbell here.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.