A Chicago-based production company has grafted together the stories of author Mary Shelley and her character Victor Frankenstein and is bringing that creation to life at the Port Theatre.
On March 8 Manual Cinema, as its name implies, will present a live, on-screen adaptation of Frankenstein in the style of a black and white silent film, while on the stage below, musicians, shadow puppeteers and actors will be visible working in real time.
“You can just watch the big screen above like it’s a movie or you can look down at the performers performing or the band playing,” said co-artistic director Sarah Fornace, who also plays both Shelley and Frankenstein. “Because we spend so much time in front of screens, we want to really foreground the humanness and the creativeness of the images.”
The Nanaimo show is the second stop on the production’s first Canadian tour, which, like the book itself, starts and ends in the far north with performances in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
Fornace said the Manual Cinema team was drawn to the story of Frankenstein because of the way it was written as a series of accounts from different perspectives and because of its long cinematic history.
“I think during every era of cinema, Frankenstein has been adapted,” she said. “From Thomas Edison’s silent film studios to TV shows on Netflix now, the parodies, the black and white versions, the versions in the ’70s. So many different takes on it so we’re excited to take on the filmic history as well as the novel.”
Fornace said the more they read the book and looked into Shelley’s life the more they were struck by themes of motherhood, birth, postpartum depression and questions about bringing children into the world. She said they were particularly inspired by the forward Shelley wrote in the second edition of the book.
“She was either pregnant or postpartum pretty much the entire time she was writing it and she talks about a story about her first baby … [who] died like two weeks later and the dream she had of reanimating this dead child of hers,” Fornace said. “So we take that as a jumping off point and really look at Mary’s process of loss and of grieving and also of creation through her story and through her writing of the novel.”
Fornace said it’s exciting to portray both Shelley and Frankenstein.
“There’s a lot of brilliance in Victor Frankenstein and there’s a lot of impetuous brilliance in Mary Shelley, too, even though they’re wildly different characters,” she said. “It’s also just a lot of fun to get to play a mad scientist.”
WHAT’S ON … Manual Cinema presents Frankenstein at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Sunday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $53 for adults, $48 for members and $12.50 for students. Available at the box office.