Towsville’s Theatre iNQ is known for its creative productions – Shakespeare in the Park is now a well-engrained institution, and Artistic Director Terri Brabon and company actor Brendan O’Connor are revered in theatre circles across the country for their dedication to forging opportunities for the North’s young thespians. But this year Terri, Brendan and their team have been forced to get even more innovative due to the temporary closure of their usual performance space at Dancenorth.
A brand new adaptation of Frankenstein, to be staged through the halls and classrooms of the iconic old Townsville West School.
The buzz surrounding the show is near electrifying enough to reanimate the dead, with Theatre iNQ forced to release ticket sales before rehearsals had even started as horror lovers and voyeurs clamoured to get a look at this classic tale told in one of Townsville’s most intriguing buildings.
“We were just looking for something as iconic as the Frankenstein name itself,” says Terri of her decision to stage the show in the old Townsville West School. “We had heard of The Griffin Group who are now in charge of the building and we’ve had some other dealings with them before and thought ‘Well, we’ll just have a swing. We’ll just ask to have a look inside and see if we think it’s usable.’ It’s such an amazingly iconic building on the corner there that’s just been dormant for quite a long time so [The Griffin Group] are really excited about the space being activated and we’re really excited about being given the opportunity to do that and to do something super different.”
Terri says her adaptation has come from necessity: the absence of a book-to-stage version of Frankenstein that really captures what she found within the pages of one of the most-loved Gothic novels of all time.
“I’ve read a lot of plays based on the book and I didn’t really like them. They didn’t speak to me and funnily enough there aren’t a lot of adaptations written by a woman, but [Frankenstein] was written by a woman. I’ve done a lot of research on Mary Shelley herself and where she was in her own life at the time she wrote the book – she was dealing with a lot of things, like she had lost a child, and other innately female concepts and yet she wrote about these men dealing with being a father and whatnot, but she was only 18 and it was absolutely astonishing.
“Anyway I see what I see, and I didn’t see that in any other version. Plus when you’re going to [stage] it in this unique venue, no other version is written to do that, so I’ve had to write it to fit the space and also to fit my actors. Knowing who I was going to cast as certain actors has kind of shaped the show… It’s very much a Theatre iNQ show. It’s based around the people and this company’s ensemble, which I think is really special; we try to do that with the Shakespeare’s each year, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to do that as much as this is offering us.”
And that’s an opportunity that Terri and her ensemble will make the most of as they stage Frankenstein in promenade fashion, splitting the audience into two groups – Team Doctor and Team Creature – to follow the actors as they move from room to room and around the halls of the old school building.
“What happens is – in the book, the stories are told separately so you hear all about the Doctor, then finally he meets up with the Creature and the Creature tells his version of the events – but what we’re doing is telling those simultaneously in different areas of the building, so if you’re Team Doctor for example, you will start with the Doctor and learn his side of the story and then they sort of swap over and then you’ll hear the Creature’s story; and they’ll overlap in certain areas where the Creature and the Doctor obviously have to be together. Whether you’re Team Doctor or Team Creature just depends where you’ll start and who’s side of the story you’ll see first.
“I’m hoping it sparks the debate, which is always there in the novel, as to who’s the real monster.”
And just how will Terri and the team reimagine Frankenstein’s Monster for a modern audience?
“We don’t really know yet! It’s all actually going to depend on how Brendan plays him and physically how much freedom he needs as to how much restriction any kind of costuming or make-up will impose because it has to look realistic. We’re very close to the audience so it can’t be anything that’s so clearly not what we say it is; you can’t really bluff your way through it when you’re staring right at it.
“But the Creature’s spirit is actually more important than what he looks like. He needs to be hideous, but the story is really about who he is on the inside… there’s certainly going to be no bolts in his neck, or a flat-top head or anything like that. You really have to connect with him on a human level, so to make the creature too distracting undermines who Brendan is as an actor as well, because he’s the best actor that I’ve ever seen – and I know that I’m a bit biased, but I actually do firmly believe that and so I know what he will do with it will be disfiguring.”
“I have great expectations for this show and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, so here we go!
Theatre iNQ’s Frankenstein will run from 19 April to 7 May. For more information, visit www.theatreinq.com