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  • Chris O'Rourke

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls


Gig or gig theatre? Because it looks a lot like a concert for a concept album married to a poetry slam vibe. Is The Gate the right venue for a show like this? And if not, why not? Just some of the questions Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster is likely to evoke. The Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy's acclaimed production resurrecting Mary Shelley's 1818 novel. Sending out a message about beauties and beasts, and beauties who become beasts, and the problems of self actualising and social media. Making its own musical monster from stitching body parts from popular songs together with sounds from the street and original compositions. Then injecting them all with beatbox lightning to get the audience's hearts pumping. Ensuring that if, for some, this relaxed performance makes for questionable theatre, it also makes for a seriously enjoyable experience.

The vocal equivalent of Stomp, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster relies on beatboxing instead of beating drums and dustbin lids to create its magic. Yet if there is much to sonically admire, visually it proves far less interesting. Looking like a Steps reunion in grey hoodies, but with twice the talent, Frankensteins' six strong beatboxers bring a concert vibe. One that proves far less energetic than a hip hop dance battle. Or Stomp for that matter, also lacking the latter's theatrical innovativeness.

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls

Following a rudimentary lesson in beatboxing, enough so you know how hard it is and how bad you are at doing it, a series of songs are performed a cappella, strung together as chapters to honour Shelley's original text and give an illusion of narrative. As performers regularly switch places in Sherry Coenen gothic shadows, a message unfolds through a series of musical vignettes, including a beatbox battle of dubious draws. If the monster proves a potent metaphor, you often have to listen closely to hear its heartbeat. Being as likely to be wondering how performers do what they do, as much, if not more, than what it is they're trying to say. Though some moments, such as the searchlight scouring the audience, hit home with palpable force.

With Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster directors Conrad Murray and David Cumming honour their beatbox traditions, ensuring ABH, Aminita, Aziza, Native, Wiz-rd, Glitch and Special K vocally shine. With Special K (Kate Donnachie), mentioned as understudy in the programme, stealing the show on Wednesday night. If some seemed to rest on their beatbox laurels at times, Donnachie was possessed by a wild, restless energy throughout, married to a voice that could crack stones or soothe bees, with the presence and personality to back it all up. The eye constantly drawn to her infectious performance in which she weaved like a boxer who never stood still.

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls

Beatbox at The Gate. Do these two things theatrically marry, or are some theatrical institutions less accommodating to shows for whom the word sick means a totally different thing? It's an idea certainly worth testing. Otherwise we'd never have had the best in-joke of the year courtesy of good sport, Vincent Brightling. Yet what risks getting lost in such questions is does Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster succeed on its own terms? And it most certainly does. Eighty minutes of medium octane, with some high octane peaks; its charm, inventiveness, and impressive beatbox skills are a genuine treat. The whole, like beatbox, collectively greater than its individual parts. To really get the best from the experience you need to get involved. But don't worry, it's all gently managed, giving back tenfold whatever you choose to give to it. A fun show with some impressive beatboxing, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster has things to say. But you may be so dazzled by how they say things you might need to go twice to catch everything. That's my excuse for going again, and I'm sticking to it.

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster, a Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy Production, presented by The Gate Theatre, runs at The Gate until April 30. It also runs as part of Cork Midsummer Festival on June 17/18.

For more information visit The Gate Theatre or Cork Midsummer Festival.


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