As you know, I’ve been asked by several of my lovely readers to write a review of the cinematic showings of the National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein. I’m hesitant to do so because frankly I’m a bit biased when it comes to reviewing your work. I don’t believe I can write anything close to an objective viewpoint on the subject. You see, I was already convinced I would love it before I walked through the doors of the cinema.
So, instead of giving them a true review, would you mind if I share with them my weekly letter to you? No? Thanks, friend. I knew you would be amenable.
Where to start? Obviously, I ventured out of the writing cave long enough to see both of your performances as the Creature and Dr. Frankenstein and as desperate as I am to explain how you utterly floored me with your acting abilities, words are completely failing me at the moment. Words like ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘incredible’ are totally and completely inadequate and really don’t capture what I was thinking and feeling after both performances. I’m at a loss for words. For a writer, that really sucks.
I know, this won’t be much of a letter if I can’t get the words on the page.
You continue to have that effect on me.
Hence, the writing cave. And the disguises.
Perhaps what I’m most aware of right now is feeling like I was given a temporary reprieve from all of the tough things going on in my life while I watched your performances. I know my letters as of late have sounded like I’m throwing a giant pity party for myself: what am I doing with my life?, blah blah blah, I can’t seem to find my path, blah blah blah, divorce, endings and beginnings, blah blah blah, parenting has been brutally challenging lately, blah blah blah, I’m still not done with the first draft of my novel, blah blah blah…
But as I sit here writing this letter and reflecting on the incredible depth of your talents, I’m all goofy grins and light-heartedness for the first time in a LOOOOONG time. As I sat in the theater watching Frankenstein, I was taken out of my brooding mind and tormented heart and transported to another time and another place where my worries and problems didn’t exist. And as I allow fragments of the play and your performance to linger in my mind, the heaviness I’ve been carrying momentarily fades away. Many, many thanks for that, friend.
The visual feast I devoured while watching Frankenstein was like no other performance I’ve ever seen. I LOVE that it was told primarily from the Creature’s point of view and began with his “birth”.
Witnessing the Creature emerging from the membrane-like apparatus on stage feeling confused and all alone, not knowing how to use his limbs or how to speak, was incredible to watch.
I literally wanted to jump out of my seat and run up on stage to offer my help as I watched you writhing around on the floor and stumbling to your feet. Yes, it was THAT moving.
You, of course, were brilliant and completely convincing as the Creature throughout the entire play. What an extremely physical role, so raw and primal. You must have been exhausted after each performance.
I loved how you were able to expose the Creature’s vulnerability, not only in the way he struggled to learn the most basic of things like walking and talking, but also in the visceral way he discovered the world and humanity, and in the heartbreaking way he learned to understand the true nature of love.
Then the next evening when you were Dr. Frankenstein, I could palpably feel the agony he was going through over bringing to life the Creature who tormented his mind and soul, and who, in the end, Frankenstein realized could not live without.
Jonny Lee Miller was also wonderful on stage and the two of you complemented each other so well. His Creature, while different from yours, was fantastic as was his portrayal of Frankenstein. But enough about that guy.
One of my favorite parts of the play was when the Creature spent time with the kindly, old blind man, spectacularly played by Karl Johnson. Infused with witty humor and endearing moments, the two characters reminded us that our connectedness to others and having a sense of belonging is what truly cuts to the core of our humanity.
Everything from the suspended lighting above the stage to the atmospheric music to the incredible rotating set brought so much to the telling of the story. I was drawn in from beginning to end, oblivious to the passing of time. While I don’t claim to possess a wealth of theatrical knowledge or experience, this was an absolutely brilliant production. Also, as you know, I am more than a little biased.
You also seem to have that effect on me.
I know you’re going to ask me if this makes up for the last Sherlock episode that punched me in the gut and then ripped my heart out. And I know you’re also going to ask me if this helps tide me over for a while since the next Sherlock episode hasn’t even been filmed yet.
My answer isn’t as clear-cut as yes or no, so let me break it down for you:
a) I am amazed and immensely grateful I had the opportunity to see this, especially since it was not showing in other major cities. I see this as a tremendous gift. Yes, I am the kind of person who sees gifts in the form of serendipitous theater tickets. Consider it one of my features. When I receive unexpected gifts like this, it inspires me to somehow pay it forward. I have yet to figure out what I will do or for whom, but I will pay it forward in the very near future.
b) You. Teeny, tiny loin cloth. Raw physicality on stage. Up close camera work. A profound regret at not being able to see this live sans loin cloth. Let’s just leave it at that.
c) Your talent and ability to convey both the emotional and physical transformation of the Creature and Dr. Frankenstein was absolutely, completely and totally awe-inspiring. And that lame sentence doesn’t even come close to what I’m really feeling and thinking.
d) The reprieve from worry and angst was also a gift that has continued to give me small, fleeting moments of peace and lightness as well as a ridiculous grin that comes at inappropriate times.
e) Did I mention how small that loin cloth was? I did? That seems to be a rather poignant part of the play that’s burned in my memory. Hmmm… let’s see… what else was I going to say…?
f) To watch a performance in which you laugh, cry, want to rush the stage to help a character, and watch with your mouth agape in wonderment is a truly remarkable thing. You, friend, most definitely bring the awesome to your craft.
So, while this doesn’t make up for that last heart-wrenching Sherlock episode (because really, can anything make up for that other than the next episode in which Sherlock isn’t dead?), I can tell you I will continue to replay your performances in my mind and will be smiling sweetly the whole time I’m doing it. People will wonder why I’m walking around grinning, sighing wistfully and looking very preoccupied with nothing in particular.
You repeatedly have that effect on me.
And precisely because of that, I now have to retreat to my writing cave again, goofy grins, giggles, wistful sighs, delightful memories and all.
*Editor’s note: The views, ideas, and opinions expressed in the Letters from Benedict series are works of fiction and obviously did not come from the actor himself. This series is just my way of expressing adoration for Mr. Cumberbatch and his work and is not intended to be taken at face value or seen as a true collaborative writing endeavor with him.