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Marcus Nance as The Creature and Charlie Gallant as Doctor Victor Frankenstein with Laura Condlln as Mary Shelley in Frankenstein Revived.Cylla von Tiedemann/Stratford Festival

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  • Frankenstein Revived
  • Written by: Mary Shelley and adapted by Morris Panych
  • Directed by: Morris Panych
  • Starring: Charlie Gallant, Laura Condlln and Marcus Nance
  • City: Stratford, Ont.
  • Venue: Avon Theatre
  • Year: To Oct. 28, 2023

A quarter century has passed since theatre director Morris Panych wowed the world with The Overcoat, a wordless movement-based adaptation of a Russian short story. Now, as he unveils Frankenstein Revived at the Stratford Festival, he returns belatedly to this genre-defying form he developed in the 1990s in Vancouver. Not fully narrative ballet nor simply movement theatre, his adaptation of the 1818 Mary Shelley novel is part dance and part visual theatre, often spectacular and occasionally frustrating as it recounts the gothic tale that is sometimes credited as having invented science fiction.

The Overcoat, based on the Nikolai Gogol short story, was a tragicomic piece about a downtrodden everyman and his new coat, and in that production – to the extent I can recall more than 20 years later – the exaggerated movements and facial expressions required to relay the plot were part of the show’s humorous style.

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Marcus Nance as The Creature and Laura Condlln as Mary Shelley with members of the company in Frankenstein Revived.Cylla von Tiedemann/Stratford Festival

Today, Shelley’s horrific story, about a scientist who animates a creature he has cobbled together from leavings of the morgue, would certainly seem to offer the possibility of a heightened or exaggerated delivery. Part of the frustration of the first half, however, is there is just so much of Shelley’s plot. Panych has cut yards of it, but nonetheless the first scenes feel like a suspense-killing frogmarch through the story as Dr. Frankenstein (Charlie Gallant) has already created a fully formed monster (Marcus Nance) that’s stumbling about the stage by the half-hour mark.

Movement and music are great conveyors of emotion but not so handy at relaying narrative incident, and here performers seem to rush on stage to offer some large arm gestures and big facial expressions only to be hustled off by the next scene. Some of the devices – characters bouncing on a low cart to indicate a train trip – come perilously close to the clichés of mime.

The production vindicates itself in the second half as there seems to be more breathing space for the company’s balletic moments. Stephen Cota has choreographed the show’s dance — Panych’s long-time collaborator Wendy Gorling has choreographed all the movement — and these sections where dancers seamlessly blend themselves into the action to heighten the moment are highly effective. They play bodies and body parts in the first half, in a morgue scene that is one of the strongest arguments for Panych’s approach to the horror story, and amplify the various deaths of the second.

Certainly you can never doubt the artistry of the production, where the breadth of Panych’s vision must be realized through Cota and Gorling’s complex choreography, David Coulter’s affecting score as it segues from the romantic to the modern, and, of course, the bodies of the performers themselves.

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Kyla Musselman as Elizabeth and Charlie Gallant as Doctor Victor Frankenstein with members of the company in Frankenstein Revived.Cylla von Tiedemann/Stratford Festival

Gallant carries the brunt of the narrative and does it grandly, with a sharp and sympathetic performance that captures the hubristic charm of the character. Nance, however, is the star here. His performance is fabulous, otherworldly yet revealing the dawning humanity of the creature as he finds first his body and then society. He is hard to look at, particularly in early scenes, yet he always amplifies the pathos of the creature’s predicament without descending into caricature. Forget all memories of the green guy with the bolts in his head.

Also highly successful is the presence of Laura Condlln playing Shelley herself, the novelist on stage conjuring up her characters and driving their story forward. At first she seems intrusive, always hovering with an oversized quill in her hand, but as the show progresses, Condlln’s solid presence gradually unites the varied elements of the production and makes the theme of the creator ring clearly and true. Like Dr. Frankenstein – or Panych for that matter – she cannot resist following her imagination and her art.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story did not name Stephen Cota as the show's dance choreographer. This version has been updated.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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