Beautiful yet shallow cinematic theatre
Manual Cinema's mash-up of music, projection, puppetry and performance reaches spectacular heights: from a picture-book like introduction that relates the famous story to Mary Shelley's biography, and especially the loss of her child, to the final triumphant credits, they generate a live-action film onto a huge screen, that expresses pathos and horror. The live musicians – augmented by cleverly construction automatic percussion – provide the backbone for a theatrical experience that evokes both silent cinema and contemporary visual theatre tricknology.
A series of superb performances, somewhere between the melodramatic posturing of early film and a more subdued naturalism, develop the tale as a character-driven battle between Frankenstein and his monster. By turns shadow-puppetry and live acting, with the cast racing between the machines generating the show, Frankenstein is an impressive technical feat, and it is only not unique because another company, Paper Cinema, work in similar, if more comic-book inspired, territory.
While the presentation is faultless, and the presence of the company manipulating the machines adds a further, formal layer, exposing the inner-workings of their creativity, the story is a relatively straight version of the classic. The death of Shelley's daughter lends a little new appreciation of the Enlightenment horror story of science meeting the occult, but the spectacle flatters the subject. The steampunk trappings and the glimpse into their process sets this above most productions, but can't hide a lack of imagination in the interpretation. While it is beautiful and sits above the usual rough magic of Fringe theatre, the depth is all in the dramaturgical style and not in the substance.
Underbelly McEwan Hall, until 26 Aug, 2.45pm, £13.50 (£12.50).