A winning reinvention

Nina Levy, Seesaw Magazine 

 

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

 

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

 

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

 

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

 

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

 

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

 

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

 

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

 

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

 

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

 

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

 

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.