Mark Brandi

Horror, sexual violence, incest and nudity are all graphically on show in an unnerving performance.

Adapted from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), this surreal production by The Rabble (Story of O & Orlando) is not for the timid. Horror, sexual violence, incest and nudity are all graphically on show in an unnerving performance. But there is more to it than shock value.

Viktor Frankenstein (Mary Helen Sassman) is desperate to produce a child and by any means. What she creates is a grossly deformed Monster that not even a mother can love. Shunned by its creator, the Monster (Jane Montgomery Griffiths) craves comfort and belonging, but is rejected, objectified and isolated by all. Pushed to the edge, it makes a violent demand for happiness.

This re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s early nineteenth-century novel identifies more closely with the darker moments of the original text than the comic book style often seen in cinema. For those who prefer the schlock-horror adaptations of Frankenstein, made and remade a thousand times on screen, it may prove challenging.

The action takes place in a large, high-walled room, the floor covered in black water balloons. In one corner, a large black womb hangs from the ceiling, while a black, inflatable wading pool is in another. It is a foreboding set.

The overall aesthetic and atmosphere owes much to cinema and is reminiscent of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, while there are also references to Kubrick’s The Shining, musical strings from Psycho, and the infamous ‘spider-walk’ scene from the Director’s Cut of The Exorcist.

This is a highly physical production dominated by shrill screeches, bright strobe lights and actors who are willing to take theatre into dark territory. There are many confronting moments, but also humour, electronica and high-energy dance scenes. Something for everyone? Maybe.

The story relies on physical interaction more than dialogue, although moments of soliloquy work well to frame the narrative. Frankenstein’s lecherous brother (David Paterson) evokes Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, a reference that is given too much time early in the production. Such scenes with just one character on stage tend to slow the pace and tension, as the production works best with its physical interplay.

The Monster is a tragic figure who captures the sympathy of the audience, while Frankenstein’s adopted daughter (Emily Milledge) is also isolated by her own sexual awakenings. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s jittery assistant (Dana Miltins) provides welcome relief with her deadpan humour.

Exploring themes of fertility, isolation and the pressure to reproduce at any cost, this is well-executed theatre by creators who are pushing boundaries. It will polarise, but that’s not a bad thing.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars


Created by Kate Davis and Emma Valente
Set & Costume Design by Kate Davis
Lighting and Sound Design by Emma Valente
Performed by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Emily Milledge, David Paterson and Mary Helen Sassman

Malthouse Theatre, Sturt St, Southbank
21 March - 5 April

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

Mark Brandi is a Melbourne writer currently completing his first fiction manuscript, a literary crime novel set in country Victoria and the inner suburbs of Melbourne.