east anglian story telling festival

Frankenstein – Review

Frankenstein – A Double Bill, Jerwood DanceHouse

Mark Bruce Company wowed Suffolk audiences this week with a double bill of brand-new work.  Mark Bruce is an internationally recognised choreographer who founded his multi-award-winning Mark Bruce Company in 1991. To be transparent, it is difficult for me to be completely unbiased about the Company because Mark Bruce is a fellow Rambert School graduate. I remember being a first-year student at the prestigious Rambert conservatoire when there was great excitement because the wonderful Mark Bruce had been commissioned to create a new piece of work on third year students. Even in the early 1990s, Bruce’s talent shone brightly, a portent of his superb creativity and genius for dance storytelling.

Jerwood DanceHouse was sold-out for this two-night run at DanceEast. The evening started with a shorter work, Liberation Day. This new creation was danced to music composed by Mark Bruce and sung by Eva Todd and Bruce himself.  The cinematic quality of the piece was enhanced by atmospheric lighting. The suite of different dance episodes, featuring duets, solos, a trio, and the whole company, shifted seamlessly. Exploring abstract themes of life, love and the passing of time, the company of six extraordinary dancers performed beautifully.

The fifty-minute pièce de resistance, Frankenstein, showcases Bruce’s distinctive and compelling choreographic language, and the darkness of the material is captured perfectly with the starkness of the adaptation. True to form, Bruce has not simply created a straightforward adaption of Mary Shelley’s famous book, which was originally published anonymously in 1818. Instead, he has chosen to present a narrative dance-theatre piece which tells the story of the tragic Monster, danced by the outstanding Johnathon Goddard. Bruce has also taken inspiration from the book’s subtitle – ‘The Modern Prometheus’ – and introduced figures from Greek mythology to the narrative.

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The surreal piece opens with thunder and lightning, and we see Doctor Frankenstein, played by the believable Dominic Rocca. The Doctor is driven by his unrelenting ambition to create life. He stitches human body parts together, to create the Monster: a towering, menacing but somehow empty facsimile of a man. Horrified at what he has recklessly created, Doctor Frankenstein rejects the Monster, who is destined to wander alone and suffering in a timeless and stark landscape. Goddard’s muscular portrayal of the Monster is engrossing and authentic: dark and brooding but, at the same time, complex and nuanced. With stillness and eloquence, Bruce’s choreography conveys the essence of what it means to be “other”, powerfully provoking reflection about the universal need for empathy and connection. What the Monster wants is love, but his darkness brings tragic drama and mutilation to the lives of all he touches.

The company are fantastically accomplished dancers and actors – who mostly trained at Rambert. Classical lines, pointed feet, and tricky balletic moves effortlessly complement the contemporary flowing style and distinctive cinematic feel of the production. Cordelia Braithwaite was exceptional as the Bride of the Monster, and Anna Daly embodied the spirit of innocence as Elizabeth. Elizabeth and the Doctor try to flee the Monster, but she falls prey to his uncontrollable impulses, and the Doctor is left grieving at her tombstone.

Bruce’s choreography revolves around a masterful and varied choice of music: ranging from Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Arvo Pärt to more modern choices such as the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, and even folk elements such as a haunting version of the song “Wayfaring Stranger” by David Eugene Edwards.

This new work is powerful, profound and a masterpiece of storytelling. The recklessness of human ambition and its uncontrollable consequences has strong parallels with current debate around A.I. But above all, this piece takes the audience to another world, challenging us to think about what it means to be human, and how we can choose to include or exclude others. It seems almost certain that this wonderful new dance-theatre creation will reap even more well-deserved awards for the incredible Mark Bruce Company.

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