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Danny Boyle's 'Frankenstein' in London wows the critics

February 24, 2011 |  7:39 am

Danny Boyle may be known to much of the world as the director of Oscar-winner “Slumdog Millionaire” and the Oscar-nominated “127 Hours,” but Culture-Monsters-in-the-know remember that he was a theater guy back in the day. His return to the stage this month after a 15-year absence with “Frankenstein” at London’s National Theatre has been greatly anticipated and the hot ticket in town.

And now that the reviews are out, that ticket is even hotter.

Based on Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel about the scientist and his creation, Boyle alternates Jonny Lee Miller ("Trainspotting") and Benedict Cumberbatch (TV's new Sherlock Holmes) in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. One night you might see Miller’s monster, the next night Cumberbatch’s, and it seems the gimmick works. The production drew high praise from critics for its staging and acting, while taking a hit on the script by Nick Dent and excessive stage effects.

Can’t make it to London? Or worse, you’re heading to London but can’t snag a ticket? Fear not -– you may be able to catch “Frankenstein” in the comfort of your local theater thanks to NT Live, the National Theatre program that broadcasts productions live from the stage to select movie theaters around the world. In the Los Angeles area, you can see the show March 17 at Mann's Chinese 6 in Hollywood or March 22 in La Mirada at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Click here for all U.S. venues and dates.

Watch the trailer above and check out what the critics had to say after the jump.…

A “bravura triumph” and "brilliant” staging, raves Michael Billington of the Guardian. But, he warns, because Boyle and Dear focus on "the victim rather than Victor," the production downplays Shelley’s themes. Still, he awards the show four out of five stars, writing: "it's a humane, intelligent retelling of the original story in which much of the focus is on the plight of the obsessive scientist's sad creation, who becomes his alter ego and his nemesis: it's rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban's point of view."

Paul Taylor of the Independent also gives “Frankenstein” four out of five stars, crediting the dual casting: "As the pair made their final exit into the foaming ice-haze at the rear of the Olivier stage on Tuesday evening, one felt a weird, unprecedented combination of indefinitely postponed catharsis and real cliff-hanger suspense. How was this so? Because Danny Boyle's extraordinarily haunting production is predicated on the notion of alternating the two leading actors -– Jonny Lee Miller (who played Sick Boy for Boyle in Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch -– in the roles of Frankenstein and his galvanised handiwork.

“With the prodigious resources of the National Theatre at his disposal, Boyle directs the gothic classic like a kid in a toy shop. We even get a totally gratuitous steam engine,” Patrick Marmion of the Daily Mail writes, later calling it “a memorable production and will doubtless be spoken of for years to come.”

Over at the Telegraph, Charles Spencer has issues with occasional “dud dialogue” but still bestows four stars on the production: “the show is a thrill — though the inevitable result of seeing it twice is that one does notice the occasional longueur, and the fact that Nick Dear’s sometimes plodding script doesn’t always live up to the brilliance of Boyle’s direction or the nervy intensity of the lead performances.”

Bloomberg’s Warwick Thompson also cites problems with the script. He favors Cumberbatch over Miller as the Creature, but overall he loves the show: “Whichever of the leads you see, you’re in for a treat. Danny Boyle (director of “Slumdog Millionaire’’) fills the Olivier Theatre with energy, and he uses the stage’s massive hydraulic revolve to whisk us in a blink from a prosperous 1820s drawing room to the wilds of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Paul Callan of the Daily Express writes: “Danny Boyle has returned from films to direct and the result is, for the most part, a mesmerising evening.” His issues, like many of the other critics, revolve around the script. reported that the Times of London (available online only to paid subscribers) applauded the "hell of a production. This taut, thrilling play runs to its awful conclusion without an interval, indeed with hardly a moment for breath."

-- Lisa Fung