Sunday, October 16, 2022

Frankenstein’s Monster Is Drunk And The Sheep Have All Jumped The Fences (Big Telly at Brian Friel Theatre until 22 October as part of Belfast International Arts Festival) #BIAF22

You’ll already know the story. The one about Frankenstein’s monster who was resting after the collapse of his Hollywood career and in was only years later when a 24-year-old confirmed spinster spotted his hand sticking out of a melting glacier that he was dug out and started living a new life. You remember the part of the monster’s back story where he lost the sheep, ran a hotel, and played bingo in the local pub? Och you do!

Even if you don’t, head along to see Big Telly’s love story slash gothic horror slash tale of acceptance and forgiveness that’s running this week. You’ll find four of the best local comedy actors, a giant dark wood armoire (think ‘heavy wardrobe’ on wheels) and four piles of props that come together to tell a fresh version of the monster’s life.

Narrated in chapters by Chris Robinson and Vicky Allen, Frankenstein’s Monster Is Drunk And The Sheep Have All Jumped The Fences follows the monster (Rhodri Lewis) and his missus (Nicky Harley) through the ups and downs of their marriage and life together in a rural village on the slopes of a mountain in eastern Europe.

Director Zoe Seaton’s bedside table must be weighed down with literary genius as she has a real knack of finding amazing source material for Big Telly’s shows. Frankenstein’s Monster Is Drunk And The Sheep Have All Jumped The Fences is adapted from Owen Booth’s award-winning short story of the same name. Stuffed full of small but surreal details, the charming tale clearly tickled the imagination of the director and performers, and in turn provokes much laughter and shrieks from the theatre audience.

It’s great to see Harley back on a Belfast stage, albeit briefly, before the show heads over to London at the end of the month and then hits New York in January. She’s in her element as the monster’s freakishly tall wife who has her own monstrous baggage to process while adapting to having a full-time man in her life.

Lewis is another all-in actor, sporting a haircut that is as good as a monster mask. His whole body takes on the other-worldly persona, a huge beast with a powerful body, yet also one that can show tenderness and compassion.

Allen and Robinson revel in relating the story in a way that takes account of the audience reaction yet also still hits the cues triggering Garth McConaghie’s score and sound effects that bring to life invisible props, and the unexpected reverb that can shift the action to new locations. They nip in and out of characters and costumes in a flash. There’s no room for error

The armoire is almost a fifth cast member, repeatedly spun round on its axis to create new rooms and portals into new situations. Only Big Telly would build a hotel reception desk in the roof of a wardrobe, elevating the action – along with the humour – to a higher plane.

The audience, who have been soaking up the implausible scenarios, are caught off guard by a stunning and sad revelation in the final chapter. The central couple have been hiding something from us for the preceding hour. It’s a very moving and humanising moment, all the more powerful for the cast’s ability to switch emotion on a dime. It draws the whole effort together in a rewarding and painfully memorable way.

It’s well worth heading through the door of Queen’s Film Theatre and on into the Brian Friel Theatre. Sit down, let your imagination run as wild as that of the cast and crew for 70 minutes, and enjoy the laughter and the tears as you find out why Frankenstein’s Monster is drunk, and why the blue sheep have all jumped the fences.

The show is running as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until Saturday 22 November, before transferring to the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham (25–29 October) and 59E59 Theaters in New York (11–28 January 2023).

Photo credit: Neil Harrison

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