6 September 2017

Young Frankenstein - Theatre Royal Newcastle

After seeing an immersive showing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory recently as part of Q Festival, I got a bit obsessed with the late, great Gene Wilder and started watching numerous Youtube videos and interviews with him. This led me to a Mel Brooks fest, watching clips of Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein (written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan). I'm sure I watched all three films a long time ago, and personally I think his films should be on prescription if you're feeling down. I regret not being able to get a ticket for The Producers on Broadway in 2001, so when I got the chance to review the musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein, I jumped at the chance. 

Ross Noble, Summer Strallen, Hadley Fraser, Lesley Joseph

You're completely drawn in from the first scene, where we meet Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (the brilliant Hadley Fraser). He's so ashamed of his mad scientist grandfather that he insists on being called Dr. 
Fronkensteen, and shares his love for his favourite organ and great scientific minds with his students in "The Brain." He learns that he's inherited his grandfather's castle in Transylvania and prepares to leave to deal with the legal side of things. He's waved off on the boat (the HMS Mary Shelley) by his overbearing fiancee, Elizabeth, and we realise the relationship is far from perfect as she sings "Please Don't Touch Me." Frederick arrives at Transylvania Heights and meets Igor (pronounced Eye-gore, played by comedy legend Ross Noble) who is over the moon to be a stooge again, and immediately tries to convince him to continue his grandfather's controversial work. The choreography in "Together Again" is tricky and both actors do a great job. 

Ross Noble as Igor (and knockers)

Igor is so confident that the Doctor will carry on the macabre work that he's hired Inga (the enviably talented Summer Strallen), a yodelling lab assistant who immediately captivates Frankenstein and the double entrendres fly about (they travel to the Castle in a hay-laden wagon for crying out loud). Then we are introduced to Frau Blucher (the inimitable Lesley Joseph), whose name frightens the horses (one of my favourite jokes in the film). We then enter the castle (impressive set design by Beowulf Boritt), Frederick and Inga are lured to the secret laboratory and discover the real nature of the relationship between Frau Blucher and the original Doctor Frankenstein (cue my favourite song He Vas My Boyfriend). Frederick decides to experiment with the reanimation of the dead, so a corpse is needed. By happy coincidence Igor knows exactly where to find one. Cue more laugh-out loud comedy when Igor is instructed to source the brain of a scholar (we know that doesn't end well). We meet the creature (Shuler Hensley) just before the end of Act I, when the Inspector Kemp (Patrick Clancy) and the villagers become suspicious of the activity at the Castle (cue two great songs and dance routines - Welcome To Transylvania and Transylvania Mania). 

I love how this photo captures the joy of the show 

The interval was needed as many people around me (including myself) had laughed themselves hoarse. In these days of political correctness, it's oddly comforting to see a show peppered with tongue-in-cheek puns and sexual undertones (I'm sure the script has been toned down because of this). You're thrown straight back into the action in Act II as the townspeople search for the monster, and the Doctor and Inga get to know each other a lot better ("Listen To Your Heart"). Things become more and more surreal when a blind Hermit appears, and Frankenstein's fiancee Elizabeth shows up. If you haven't seen the film or it's been a long time, the final scenes are pretty out there, deeply funny and bizarre (the script has been altered a bit which works well). I won't give too much away in case you're seeing it for the first time, but many social norms are tossed aside.  I'm still trying to figure out if the technical fault was real or just an opportunity for Ross to get a joke in. 

It's difficult to wax lyrical about particular cast members as everyone is so good, but Hadley Fraser does manage make a taxing part look effortless. Summer Strallen is obviously born to be on stage (she was great in Flying Into Daylight a couple of years ago at the Live Theatre) and Ross Noble is perfectly cast as Igor, as is Lesley Joseph as the Frau (she gets to show off the dancing skills acquired in Strictly last year). Patrick Clancy is impressive in a dual role, and Shuler Hensley is unforgettable as the Monster. Everything about it is spot-on, great ensemble cast, costumes, sets and music (directed by Andrew Hilton). It can't be easy to adapt such a well-loved film, Mel Brooks is a genius (thank God BAFTA got round to giving him a lifetime achievement award this year). Susan Stroman has done an amazing job with the direction and choreography. Don't miss the chance to see this fantastic adaptation of a comedy classic before it goes to the West End! 

I'm hoping and praying that Blazing Saddles will take to the stage soon (it's mentioned in the final song). In turbulent times, Mel Brooks' comedy genius and escapism is needed more than ever.


The pre-West End season of Young Frankenstein is at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Sat 9 September 2017, playing evenings Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm, matinee on Thursday 7 September at 2pm. Tickets from £19.50.  Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge) or book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk 

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