I’ve only had three encounters with beatboxing in my life and all three were in Pitch Perfect films. Then, I went to see Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster produced by Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) Beatbox Academy in the Gate Theatre, which featured six voices working together to fuse a classic Gothic horror tale with modern musings on social media and technology.
Before the show began, Artistic Director of BAC Beatbox Academy Conrad Murray stepped out onto the stage urging the audience to film the show because they wanted “to go viral”. Unusual. Was this a concert or theatre, I mused? This is Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster’s hook – Battersea Arts Centre made this show toe the line between the two.
As I sank into my seat, someone mentioned “audience participation”, to which a beanie-wearing skater boy appeared weary and an elderly, spectacle-wearing couple to my left looked down. However, within three minutes we were all engaging in an orchestral, communal beatbox – or trying to anyway, before suddenly, the house lights went up and we, the audience, were on show. The rapid shift from unapologetic performers demanding attention to exposing the audience was what made this show so unpredictable.
The talent of the performers onstage was undeniable. The audience was left in a state of disbelief as they transitioned seamlessly from hip-hop to acapella singing. The entire audience was taken hostage by the performers, their hold remorseless, with force reminiscent of a monster.
The show retained clear links to the themes of persecution and power in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein yet, in a move that was perhaps somewhat misleading, the production was not about the story of Frankenstein but rather what it represented. This meant that you could enjoy your night at the theatre without feeling stupid about not getting a literary reference.
Having said this, the significance of Frankenstein killing its creator was pertinent to this production, despite being overshadowed by the sound onstage. The dark side of social media was also explored at the show’s centre, with the musical ensemble reminding the audience of how the digital age forces a shallow fixation on appearance, saying they “really shouldn’t post that”.
The production’s use of breath and breathing remained a standout feature throughout. Grounding the audience and the performers in the chaos of creating a monster, the standout number “Breathing” was stunning. In this number, the effort that BAC made to incorporate the lexicon of the young performers while ensuring the utmost professionalism from them was evident. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to stress how masterful the human percussion onstage was. Though highly impressive from the outset, it just kept getting better and better.
Sherry Coenen’s lighting was simple yet clear. Miscellaneous copper light bulbs drooped over the actors made this stage stylish. This, paired with impactful choreography, meant Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster was sleek in its execution.
When it came to the performers, Alex Hackett, playing ABH, was playful yet focused as he sang and beatboxed his way through the show, battling serial flirt Native, played by Nathaniel Forder-Stapleton, who provided comic relief throughout. Nadine Rose Johnson, playing Glitch, in particular, did a brilliant job of being personable to the audience. Her charm also allowed us to appreciate her sheer skill on stage. Aziza Amira Brown also supplied the show with an extraordinarily youthful buzz while Tyler Worthington, playing Wiz-RD was sharp and assertive in providing beats that formed the backbone of the show’s soundscapes. The individuality of each cast member really came to life as the show progressed. The balance between abstract storytelling and integrating the cast’s own distinguishing qualities no doubt presented a challenge, but done well was groundbreaking and highly entertaining to watch.
Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster managed to be both distinctly individualistic and personal yet communal and inspiring. It was a multifaceted production in how it united the cast and the audience in scrutinising the modern world, while also creating a blend of spectacular talents onstage.
Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster runs in the Gate Theatre until April 30th before touring to Cork Midsummer Festival on June 17th and 18th.