So I finally got to watch The Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein, which my son special-ordered on DVD back I dunno when. The plague snarled up various plans for getting together to watch it. Today, we did.
A quick brag: my son has excellent critical sense. When he tells me something is good, I trust him. He’s never let me down yet … except maybe that 2019 Cats movie. I endure enough fevers with my ank spond to enjoy fever-dreams of … yeah.
Then again, The Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein is feverish. Fleshy. I’ve not read Mary Shelley’s novel since 1989, so I’d forgotten many details. What I did have fresh and ready in my head: other adaptions of the story, from It’s alive! to Saturday morning breakfast horrors that are having conversations of their own, with a quick trip to the castle, don’t spare the horses. I’m also a big fan of this series in which Sean Bean’s character, a veteran of (ahem) the Peninsular Wars — a sharp poke, that one — discovers a corpse that appear to be stitched together from other corpses. Frankenstein has soaked our pop culture til its sopping wet.
So why am I going on about the Royal Ballet’s adaptation? Because it’s brilliant. Choreograhy, music, sir design, costume design, the dancers, everything — and I only caught the half of it, I’m sure. William Blake’s visual influence spatters and drips everything, and the electrification thingy is right from Hollywood. Various changes are made to suit the medium — a ballet is not a novel — and they work. The ballet is not just re-telling a familiar story. It’s conversing with past tellings, and it’s conversing with current concerns — gender, for a start.
I love conversations between and within works of art. I try hard to spark such conversations in my own fiction — not just simple allusion, but deep-structure engagement. At the very least, one should make a nod to influences, a gesture of gratitude, because the human project of storytelling is about not just one artist, not just one work — not confinement within prisons of the self — but connections. Such connections and the drives behind them were certainly a concern of Mary Shelley’s as her Creature makes us ask, again and again, what does it mean, and what can it mean, to be human?