Bringing ‘Frankenstein’ to life.

Jenny Shpeter and Saniya Saraf, Producer and Director of \’Frankenstein\’.

Directing is almost always challenging – the spontaneity of theatre is what attracts most of us to it. Directing Frankenstein was a reminder of this sentiment to all of us in the production team. The pandemic brought with it all types of adapted theatre and with it came Radio Theatre; arguably taking a front seat in Durham.

Here’s what Jenny Shpeter, Executive Producer and President of Castle Theatre Company (CTC) has to say about it; Jenny is a fourth year at University (Castle) College, studying Economics and is hoping to work as a producer in film/TV, as well as radio and theatre.

The uncertainties of Covid-19 and recurring lockdowns threw the prospects of producing live theatre into complete disarray.  It was heart-breaking to see so many projects being postponed or cancelled, with so much hard work and talent going to waste.  However, this was the drive we needed to create a new form of theatre: Frankenstein.

Olivia and I met when working on The Marley Stones, CTC’s first radio production.  We quickly bonded over our love for theatre (and BTS) and decided that since CTC and Green Door Theatre Co. were the only companies who had created radio plays at the time – Green Door had just produced The Fictional Five – it would be fantastic to collaborate and create an even bigger production.  It couldn’t be just any play though, it had to be something well-known, that would create an impact, but something that we could put our own twist on and make unique.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a natural choice.  

Creating something unique

The fact that there was no audio adaptation of the novel did not deter us: we had the perfect person in mind who could help.  Sophie Wright – a Durham Student Theatre alumna who I met in my first year when performing in her scratch night piece – had previously adapted Northanger Abbey for CTC, which became a sell-out success.  I couldn’t think of anyone better to adapt Frankenstein and was so thrilled when she agreed to come on board!  

With a commissioned script on the way, we wondered how else we could make our production unique.  Including original music and interviewing Dr. Simon James who is an expert in the gothic novel from the English Department, this was brilliant for involving more people, but the stand-out factor were the illustrations: Anna, Adeline and Jasmine created something extraordinary, turning our radio production into an audio animation!

We had our playwright, we had the talented people of both the CTC and Green Door execs (special shoutout to Dragos), all that was left was to find our production team and cast.

Saniya Saraf is the Co-Director of Frankenstein.  She is a second year at St Mary’s College studying English Literature and is an aspiring director and writer.

Adapting a classic like Frankenstein was an intriguing prospect – it required transforming Shelley’s multilayered allegorical novel to the simplest, yet at at the same time, most technical form. What myself and Harry (Jenkins) as co-directors hoped it’s done, is strip Shelley’s writing of the visual grandeur to unmask the raw, biting nature of her incredible characterisation.

Casting the characters

The complexity of directing radio theatre is born out of its multifaceted nature – something that became clear even before the audition process began. Our casting process was driven by technicalities, including casting actors with distinctive voices, having them perform a variety of different sounds – from animalistic growls to frightened screeches and assessing their ability to subtext through audio; an element which proved to be exceedingly difficult. We briefly considered casting the same voice for both the character of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein. The idea was to reflect the creature as a manifestation of Victor himself. Technical difficulties and CTC’s wonderful dedication to a wider casting, bearing in mind the lack of theatre opportunities due to Covid-19, lead us to decide against it.

There’s a lot to be said about audio acting – a lot of what you would naturally express though body language is amiss – creating a void that as directors, we needed to ensure was being filled. Modulation, tonal technicalities, and the occasional tongue twister were devices that we employed. A fantastic cast obviously made the process much smoother.

Recording remotely

I suppose the real challenge this production posed was recording. The country’s seemingly sudden plunge into lockdown did not help as it left many of the cast members without mics. The wonder of technology and the unwavering dedication of our technical directors, Jonathan Yeap and Dragos Farcas, helped us sail through it with just a few groans here and there – you didn’t hear it from me!

Frankenstein was an ambitious project from its inception – it brought with it an extensive production team working almost like a well-oiled machine, providing the finished product with different parts; be it the illustrations, the acting, or most importantly the technical wizardry of combining all of it together. We can only hope from this end of the screen that we were successful in bringing to life the vibrancy of all that is the genius of Mary Shelley.

Enjoy the show

Frankenstein will be available to watch online from Friday 29 January – until 19 February.
Tickets are available now priced at only £4.50 and can be ordered here on the DST website

For a preview of this exciting, atmospheric production, watch the trailer now

You can also watch the interview with Playwright Sophie Wright and Prof Simon James here on Youtube

Durham Drama Festival 2021

You can experience more student theatre productions from 1 – 7 February, when the 47th annual Durham Drama Festival takes place entirely online. Enjoy nine brand new, student written plays, also created during lockdown.

Jenny Shpeter and Saniya Saraf, Producer and Director of \’Frankenstein\’.

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