Return of the monster
William Yeoman, The West Australian
William Yeoman: Hello, I’m Will Yeoman, arts writer at The West Australian. This year sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein. The novel has since sparked countless adaptations for the stage and screen, including Frank Enstein, a dance theatre collaboration between Queensland based performing arts company, The Farm, and WA’s premier contemporary dance company Co3 Australia. First performed in 2017 to critical acclaim, Frank Enstein returns to the State Theatre Centre of WA in April, this time with teenagers Wiliam Rees and Luci Young in the lead roles of Frank and Liz, formerly played by adults. Co3 dancers Andrew Searle, Talitha Maslin, and Zachary Lopez, return as Frank’s monsters. Today we’re joined by Co3 Australia artistic director Raewyn Hill, to tell us more about this extraordinary production. Raewyn, welcome to the studio.
Raewyn Hill: Thank you.
William Yeoman: It was performed to critical and popular acclaim last year as a premier work, but Frank Enstein this year sees a number of changes. Can you tell us more about what’s different this year?
Raewyn Hill: Well, there’s a natural change that happens when there’s a casting change, and so the lead role is played by William, and it was previously played by Daniel Monks, so that’s brought about a whole new conversation because William is 16 years old. So his partner in the performance is Liz, and she’s 15 years old, so we’ve really brought a new dimension to the work in terms of viewing the story through youth, so that’s really changed a lot. That’s really in response to Gavin and Grayson, the two directors of the work, how they work as well, is that they draw a lot on the personalities of the cast.
William Yeoman: Now just getting back to the original story and how it’s been adapted for this dance theatre piece, and, you know, when people hear the words contemporary dance, they, to be honest, they normally run a mile. I’d love to know why this work is so important, particularly for young people to see and what it says about today’s youth culture, and today’s culture in general, in terms of identity, and culture, and just being ourselves, individuals.
Raewyn Hill: Well, it’s an accessible work, and I’m more than happy to say that contemporary dance can be a little bit abstract, a little bit confronting. I think it’s because you’re looking for a story inside it, and that’s a natural thing to do when you’re seeing live performance. With Frank Enstein there’s a story already, a lot of people know the story. I think one of the beautiful things with Gavin and Grayson’s work is that they can balance deep and profound, confronting stories and situations, with humour, so it makes it accessible.
William Yeoman: You also touch on the subject of disability don’t you in this particular production.
Raewyn Hill: Well we do, William has an impairment on his left side that brings a whole new dimension to his character, to his interaction with Luci, the younger dancer, and certainly the Co3 dancers who play the monsters, who are physically perfect. We really look at William’s, if you would like to call it a disability, as an ability that’s made him a very strong, independent, extraordinary young man. So we really celebrate what he brings to the work.
William Yeoman: We’ve just completed a hugely popular and successful Fringe and Perth Festival season, and there’s always a lot going on, competing for people’s attention still, so we’ve got theatre, we’ve got sport, we’ve got film, we’ve got TV. Can you tell me why people should spend their money and time coming to see Frank Enstein?
Raewyn Hill: The golden question, isn’t it? Last year, it was a smash hit, and it’s hard to predict the smash hit but I guess the thing with this work is it’s funny, it’s accessible, it’s highly physical, it’s profound. It speaks about humanity, it allows the audience to question their place and their ideas about life, and how they interact with people. I feel like this work has got everything. It’s not deep and dark and you don’t leave the theatre feeling too emotional but you get that balance between questioning and being able to also celebrate extraordinary work.
William Yeoman: That actually sounds quite inspirational. So there we are, Frank Enstein with Co3 kicks off in April. Don’t miss it this time round if you didn’t catch it last year. Raewyn Hill, thank you so much for joining us in the studio.
Raewyn Hill: Thank you for having me.
After a sell-out 2017 season, Frank Enstein returns to the Heath Ledger Theatre a the State Theatre Centre of WA.
Made by the award winning creative duo of Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood from QLD-based company The Farm in collaboration with WA’s flagship contemporary dance company Co3 Australia, Frank Enstein is a hilarious, poignant tale of self-acceptance in this classic story with a twist.
Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel, this revival of Frank Enstein featured two young performers in the lead roles formerly played by adults. William Rees, 16, takes on the title role of Frank, brining his unique experience of performing with a disability to the character. 15-year-old local dancer, and Act-Belong-Commit Co:Youth Ensemble member Luci Young makes her professional debut in the role of Liz.
Co3 Australia dancers Andrew Searle, Talitha Maslin and Zachary Lopez reprise their roles as the monsters Frank brings to life.
“Frank Enstein is based on themes from the original story around self-acceptance and the courage to accept the way that you are – it’s about brining life to inanimate matter,” Co3 Australia’s Artistic Director Raewyn Hill explains.
According to Hill, The Farm desires to create works that are based on universal themes that connect with everyone.
“I really believe that this work matters because I think that we all know the story about the battle with self,” she says. “I think that that’s a universal story – the struggle to fit in, the struggle to find place and the struggle to find worth – and I think it’s a story that speaks to all of us. I guess, for me, that’s really why I was attracted to being part of bringing this work to life.”
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted in many forms since it was first published in 1818 and a lot have been bleak and sinister. Hill says this reworking includes a lot of humour.
“I’m in complete awe with Gavin and Grayson, that they can tackle some pretty hard themes – like I say, this work matters because it talks to all of us about this concept of struggle and the concept of accepting self – and the absolute beauty with them as makers is that they can tackle a very difficult thing like this and find humour in it and present it in a way that is perhaps not as confronting,” she says.
“So there’s an accessibility to their work which comes about through balancing the light and the dark – they are absolute masters at it.”
Hill believes it’s a work that connects with the child in all of us and the balance and broad appeal of the show is also helping a younger generation connect with contemporary dance.
“It speaks to children and it speaks to adults because I guess as we grow up weforget that … we still hold that child in us and we forget that that child needs to be nurtured as well,” she explains.
“It is a work, I think it’s from eight years up and it speaks to everybody.”