Just in time for Halloween, Sutton House will soon play host to director Katharine Armitage’s new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Through a combination of puppetry, shadows and scares, company Tea Break Theatre not only offers an opportunity to celebrate Halloween through history, but it provides the opportunity to reflect on female identity and their role of women in society. I managed to grab a few moments of Katharine’s time to find out more about the production.
HS: For those who haven’t read or experienced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, what is your production about and what can audiences expect from it?
KA: Frankenstein is considered to be the first science fiction novel which means it’s a story about what happens when you take science too far. Small hint: it doesn’t go great… The story is of a brilliant scientist who becomes obsessed with defeating death after losing his mother, he therefore sets out to build a perfect new human and bring it to life. Unfortunately, he fails to truly consider the consequences of succeeding; meanwhile he is hiding what he’s doing from his wife, best friend and fellow scientists. Arrogance and secrecy become a deadly combination as Victor Frankenstein’s creation steps out into the world.
HS: How is your adaptation different from previous adaptations?
KA: The first big difference is that our creature is female. This isn’t an arbitrary decision, for me the creature has always been female (take a look at how the creature speaks in the novel, I guarantee you’ll see what I mean) and by making this change we’re aiming to bring Mary Shelley herself out of the shadows in which she hid herself. A nineteen-year-old, who was horrendously in love and surrounded by brilliant men, wrote a book with almost no female presence and yet it is such a female story. It’s about birth, motherhood, responsibility and the traps and terrors of a world created by a few yet lived by the many.
A lot of adaptations see the story as a straight-forward Gothic but it’s so much more than that. This production brings out the wonderful, very human, stories and relationships Mary created and the site-specific nature of the show means the audience get to live and breathe the characters’ experiences.
I also think it might well be the first adaptation to take place in a 500 year old house in Hackney, but I could be wrong…! We’ve had a lot of fun with the setting, mixing the novel with the house’s history and the world of science fiction.
HS: What makes Sutton House the perfect venue for the production?
KA: Working with Sutton House means we’ve been able to create the show inspired by the building itself and its history. Which is why we have set the show in 1986 when the house was occupied by squatters who were the first people to turn it into an arts venue. We love mixing time periods and Sutton House’s varied history is the perfect medium to work with so that a classic text becomes immediate, unexpected and exciting. It’s also pretty bloody scary when all the lights are off.
HS: What other classic novels would you like to see become immersive productions?
KA: Jane Eyre is definitely calling to me! I think classics that have powerful and complex characters at their heart, and therefore thrive off the intimacy which immersive theatre creates, are the best ones. Rebecca is another obvious choice. Houses with secrets and women trying to survive them, that seems to be the theme here! I’m not sure I could do this one but I’ve always thought Of Mice and Men would be an amazing immersive production: the smell of the hay, the claustrophobia of the bunk house… (I’m making it sound sexier than it is!). I would love to see some of the sillier classics done in this way as well, maybe P.G.Wodehouse should go on my list.
Huge thanks to Katharine for taking the time to answer my questions about the show. For tickets and more information on Frankenstein please visit http://www.teabreaktheatre.com/what-s-on-1
Until next time,