Mark Bruce Company on adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Mark Bruce Company is no stranger to creating dance works inspired by literary classics. The company’s Dracula which premiered in 2013 was praised for the way it raised the bar for dance theatre with its vampy, erotic retelling of Bram Stoker’s haunting tale.

In the years since, Mark Bruce Company has created other dance adaptations of classics in the Western literary canon including Homer’s The Odyssey (2016) and Shakespeare’s Macbeth (2018).

The company returns with a new dance work based on Mary Shelley’s gothic Frankenstein. Read on to find out more about the work.

Q: When did you first experience Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’?

MARK BRUCE: I was introduced to Frankenstein in the 1970s when we were all exposed to the classic horror genre: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Whether it was through the novels themselves or through films, comic books or even cartoons on TV, they became convoluted, mixed with dreams, and one’s imagination gave them an interesting life of their own.

It’s different revisiting the original material much later in life with more insight about their origins and the eras in which they were written.

The element that I actually related most to in ‘Frankenstein’ was the vision Mary Shelley had of the monster in a half-dreaming stage. I could see how such a presence could suddenly be there within a darkened room. That image has never left me.

I have been asked on many occasions whether I would do an adaptation of Frankenstein and although I entertained the idea it was only on the periphery of other projects. I was working on a treatment for another production and in taking some time out I thought I’d re-read Frankenstein, clear my mind of all other interpretations and attempt a fresh visualisation of the story. 

I quickly realised I had never properly thought it through, and that the path to an adaptation was clear and full of elements that would work well for interpretation through dance theatre. I identified and edited out what had got in the way of tackling it before: the horror of Frankenstein is subtle, unsettling.  I don’t see it as a horror story; it is more akin to a classic tragedy.  It’s philosophical and full of pathos. Even the alternative title – The Modern Prometheus, is a clear statement of intent. 

Q: What was it about the story that grabbed your attention most?

MB: I think my early exposure to the films of Frankenstein was partly what I had to let go of in order to write my own version. In the 1970s there used to be late night horror double bills on TV. Of course there were no video options then so you literally had to stay up in to the early hours to watch them. Everyone else would go to bed and I’d be in dark room by myself – half dreaming and getting increasingly scared!

I remember seeing Hammer Horror’s 1957 Curse of Frankenstein: just watching Christopher Lee as the monster left me with something horrific to dream about.

In my interpretation Victor Frankenstein’s obsessive quest to capture the fire of life causes him to live partly in the real world and partly in the other world where he has visitations from entities such as Prometheus. Similar to the creature visiting Mary Shelley in a dream.  This is my way of realising the Dr as a ‘mad scientist’; I have attempted to visualise his perception by placing the viewer into his mind. I have set the production on a plain where what is real and what is not becomes a primary question. 

I have set the scenes in the two worlds that the monster and his creator exist in, with interaction between all too real and human characters drawn into tragic consequences, and immortal entities. Liberation Day – the work that accompanies Frankenstein in the double bill, tackles very similar ideas, both pieces are very much a study of states/places of being.

Q: What’s the look/design of your production?

MB: This is a pared-down production. It is about the interaction of six performers playing many characters. In terms of design, we have spoken about German expressionism, the etchings of Max Ernst and colourised photos. The production slips through an amalgamation of times and eras. The creature design has undergone a lot of research. I worked in collaboration with Filipe Alcada on original designs of the monster and am working with the creative team to realise these for stage.

Q: Tell us a little about your cast and creative team.

MB: I have a very strong cast. Some I am working with for the first time and others have an established history with the company. Having all these artists and what they have to offer in the studio is a gift for any director or choreographer.

I have worked with Eleanor Duval and Jonathan Goddard for many years. Our collaborations are a continuing and essential journey that have a fundamental influence on the work the company produces. They bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the creative process.

I have wanted to work with Cordelia Braithwaite for some time. We did some studio time last year and immediately produced some powerful material. She has so much to bring to the process and absolutely suits the style of the work.   Carina Howard has worked with the company on several productions. She is a great dancer and artist who goes from strength to strength.  I worked with Dominic Rocca for my production of Macbeth. It’s great to welcome him back into the company.  This is the first time I have worked with Anna Daly. She has very special and strong qualities and I look forward to discovering where this leads.

I’m working with my long-established creative team Guy Hoare/lighting, Dorothee Brodrück/costume, and Phil Eddolls/set design.

Q: And you’ll be performing at the Memorial in Frome, Dance East in Ipswich, and the Place in London.

MB: This is our first time at the Memorial Theatre in Frome. This theatre is a gem. It has a great atmosphere and suits the company and its work. We very much look forward to premiering Frankenstein before our Frome audience.

We very much look forward to performing at the Place to our existing and new London audiences. It has been a long time since we were last there and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to bring this new work into such a well-regarded dance venue. 

It is always a great pleasure to perform at DanceEast who have supported us with a commission for this work and have celebrated the company and its work for so many years. We always feel very at home in Ipswich!