A well of seething darkness: Mark Bruce Company’s Frankenstein

The Place, London
March 26, 2024

Mark Bruce’s programme notes for his new production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein describe the music chosen (by Frederic Chopin, Krzysztof Penderecki and Arvo Pärt) as ‘evocative.’ It is. Absolutely. But so is everything else about his superb piece of dance theatre that comes with all the Gothic surrealness and cinematic qualities that Bruce is known for.

From the first moments, the audience is drawn into a well of seething darkness, as Doctor Frankenstein (Dominic Rocca) visits a morgue to hack-off the body parts needed to create his monster.

The absolute bleakness of what follows is juxtaposed by the love stories between Frankenstein and his soon to be wife, Elizabeth (Anna Daly), and The Monster (the always outstanding Jonathan Goddard) and his bride (Cordelia Braithwaite).

Jonathan Goddard as The Monster in Mark Bruce’s Frankenstein
Photo Mark Bruce Company

The dancing is exquisite, technically excellent, and delivered with a mixture of pathos, evil and innocence, which is beguiling.

Bruce’s choreography is exciting and inventive. He manages to get inside the skin of his characters, and create movements for them that seem to emanate from deep inside. Ultimately though, it does feel s little repetitive on occasion, suggesting some judicious editing here, a paring down of the one or two sections, is called for. Unarguable is the cinematic quality brought to everything though. Frankenstein draws you in and holds you, even beyond the final curtain.

The lighting design, by Guy Hoare, while dark, never dips to that level of dimness where you strain to see the performers, while the simple, but very effective set, by Rod Holt, creates the feeling that hell is but a small step away in any direction.

Eleanor Duval (Prometheus) and Jonathan Goddard (The Monster)
in Mark Bruce’s Frankenstein
Photo Mark Bruce Company

Dorothee Brodrück’s costume designs work well, with one exception. That for Prometheus (Eleanor Duval) seemed to be out of keeping with the rest. It’s presumably deliberate, but, for me, it gives the character an almost a comic edge, albeit unintended, I’m sure.

Preceding Frankenstein, the short Liberation Day is described as an introduction to the dancers. Quite why it was thought necessary, is unclear. Top marks for the original songs, composed by Bruce, even if they did seem to have little connection with what the dancers were doing. Indeed, at times they seemed to be moving at odds with the rhythm, which had a jarring effect, which, if intended, did nothing to enhance the dances or the dancers’ performances.

Read David Mead’s conversation with Jonathan Goddard about the making of Frankenstein here.