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Frank Enstein

Nerida Dickinson

Narrative-driven dance piece, highly accessible with many wow moments.
Frank Enstein

Frank Enstein commissioned by The Farm, Co3 Australia & Bleach* Festival. Image via Co3 Australia.

Frank is a genius, but when it comes to ‘making friends’ he takes the phrase literally. As Liz watches, unobserved, he brings his new friend ‘Monster’ to life with the help of a box full of lightning. Monster helps Frank to assemble the parts for a facsimile of Liz, but they throw the leftovers away into a bin with some extra lightning – and a new friend is created and found by Liz. Some mishaps, misunderstandings and awkward moments pass, and then everyone finds their stride and all the humans and the monsters are friends together.

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A simple storyline allows room for plenty of sweet and slapstick digressions alike, and Frank’s creations allow room for choreography that challenges our notions and expectations of the capabilities of the human form. The narrative is pitched to be accessible to children, with a surreal fusion of fairy-tale wonder and shaggy dog story in this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic tale.

Choreographers Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood of The Farm have subverted the classic monster tale, by casting Daniel Monks as Frank. The physical limitations of Monk’s body drive the story, as he pushes to create ‘perfection’ through his more-than-able bodied monsters. The ideas of ability are challenged again and again as the monsters behave in silly ways or – in particularly impressive dance moves – develop faults and twitch and turn every which way.

Monks brings a disabled and insecure genius to the stage, his overall capacity for movement and control emphasising the lack of physical development of his right side. While some touching solo and pair work with the monsters examines his physical limitations, Monks later progresses to joyfully wooing and dancing the night away in style despite his unresponsive arm. Liz (Brianna Kell) sees his inner charms, however, and there is a chemistry in the connection of their two characters. Kell brings Liz’s high spirits to the stage, as she picnics, listens to music and dances with her dream companion. Kell combines Liz’s high spirits and shyness, as she dances in tight combination with characters through ‘the wall’ of the laboratory.

Andrew Searle’s Monster has physical perfection, much admired by his creator, but his character’s lack of comprehension reduces him to performing mundane tasks. To Searle’s credit, this is quite watchable, and he works well in the ensemble pieces to support and complement the other performers. As the creation found in the bin, Zachary Lopez carries off the mixed up monster well. His moves combine strength and grace as well as great facial expressions to emphasise his mischievous slapstick performances, in which he manipulates his fellow monsters. The interesting and problematic ‘Liz Monster’ is given a character all her own by Talitha Maslin, and has some of the most impressive and painful looking contortion-inspired dance moves in her haphazard arrival to life sequence. The sequence of accidental ‘birth by lightning’ is from a horizontal position on the metal gurney, and features so many unnatural angles of limbs and spinal arrangement that it is difficult to remember that Maslin is actually human, and not an animated jumble of mannequin parts.

The soundscape created by James Brown is easy to listen to and contributes to the atmosphere of ‘work’, ‘romance’ and ‘party’ (signs in the laboratory for ease of reference) in clear and distinct ways. Lighting design by Mark Howett is great to clarify events, with storms, dance parties and sudden arrivals of sentience all marked well. Vilma Mattila’s set is likewise clearly designed, giving clear views of all events but still delineating the areas and their purposes. The large grassed area gives the whole stage a general al fresco feel.

Co3 continue to make dance accessible and entertaining, while maintaining a high standard from all performers and creatives.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Frank Enstein

Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3
Commissioned by The Farm, Co3 Australia & Bleach* Festival
Directed by: Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber
Lighting Design: Mark Howett
Set Design: Vilma Mattila
Sound Design: James Brown
Associate Artist: Raewyn Hill (Co3)
Created with and performed by: Brianna Kell (The Farm), Zachary Lopez (Co3), Talitha Maslin (Co3), Daniel Monks (The Farm) and Andrew Searle (Co3)
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
5 - 8 April 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.

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