Drama GCSE: Attracting New Audiences to the Theatre

How Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein' was adapted for the stage by the National Theatre in 2011, in Danny Boyle's critically acclaimed production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Nick Dear, the production stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein and the Monster, alternating roles.

We see Boyle working in the rehearsal room, interspersed with footage from the classic 'Frankenstein' film of 1931.

Boyle explains how the text is timeless, and different themes will appeal to different audiences. For example, genetics and cloning being two contemporary themes for a new audience.

Nick Dear explores the context Mary Shelley was original writing in, suggesting she was writing a creation myth for the science age, a story of creation without featuring God.

Dear thinks the story is still very pertinent to us now. Boyle explains how in the NT production, the creature was given a voice, which was different to the classic films, which showed him as a silent and threatening monster.

We see Miller and Cumberbatch creating their roles in the rehearsal room. They discuss the challenges of playing a new-born creature and having to show him learning.

Cumberbatch explains how as research he looked at stroke victims, people having to re-learn how to use their bodies, and Miller used his two year old child as an influence.

This clip is from BBC series Arena: The National Theatre.

Teacher Notes

A thought-provoking piece that could be used as a stimulus for group discussion at Higher level.

Pupils could explore the themes raised: genetics, man V God, human frailty, nature v science in their discussion, as well as considering the final point in detail: ‘we look at the world and we see what we’ve done’ – this moves into other territory, such as global warming, advancing technology, terrorism.

A simple note-taking exercise could then develop into a group discussion, or teachers could use the clip as material for a more formal listening assessment which looks more closely at the structure and language used.

This could tie in with units on texts that deal with similar themes such as Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, The Road, Romantic poetry, MacCaig’s ‘Basking shark’ – ‘So who’s the monster’?

Curriculum Notes

This clip could be relevant for teaching Drama at KS4/GCSE level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Drama at National 4 and 5 in Scotland.

More from Arena: The National Theatre

An introduction to the National Theatre
Making Shakespeare Contemporary
Making Theatre Relevant
Othello – Themes and Contemporary Approach