A parody with potential, but a misjudged focus and missed opportunities mean Young Frankenstein fails to deliver.
I came to Young Frankenstein expecting nothing less than schtick to the nth degree. I was not disappointed in this sense, but – if schtick is what you are going to deliver – the focus of the production needs to be tight for the humour to land. The production isn’t sure what to embrace, what to critique; what to add in and – crucially – what to leave out. The story of Frankenstein is littered with recognisable references which pervade our cultural psyche. It would probably be best to pick a few of them, take the ball and run with it, rather than trying to tackle all of them and then throwing a few more in for good luck.
The performers do a good job despite a surprisingly clunky script and some misjudged narrative decisions from Mel Brookes, creator of The Producers – arguably one of the best pieces of musical comedy of the twentieth century. Summer Strallen as Inga, Frankenstein’s Assistant, is a triple threat in the truest sense of the word, and Hadley Fraser as Frankenstein shines with an awkward charisma underpinned by solid technique. The ensemble are solid and bring a great energy to the production.
However, director Susan Stroman has wildly misjudged Ross Noble’s involvement in the cast. If you are going to employ a comedian with such a distinctive tone as Noble, surely you want them to bring some of that to the production, rather than mould them into precisely the same stereotype which precedes them. My feeling is a Geordie Igor would have been hilariously unexpected, and this is just one of many missed opportunities to challenge the existing material. Equally, I expected Lesley Joseph to be much more outlandish in her role as the late Frankenstein’s lover – her reputation for being outrageous could, and should, have been pushed much further to make the most of her involvement.
The moments which shine, perhaps unsurprisingly coming from Brookes, are the ones where the genre of musical theatre is the focus of the parody, in truly ridiculous glory: an extended tap dance sequence starring the Monster, Frankenstein’s declaration that ‘There is Nothing Like a Brain!’ – these are brilliant in their simplicity, stupidity and execution. This is what musical theatre parody is built for: if the whole piece had been approached like this, it would have achieved what it set out to do.
However, its lack of sophistication and inability to critique the material also makes for some seriously troubling moments. It is 2017 – no one needs a ‘number’ on domestic violence. Taking an old story and making a new comedy musical out of it seems like a golden opportunity to take tired stereotypes and address them for comic effect. The piece’s failure to present with a wry and critical eye means that the story’s sexist and ableist origins are simply reaffirmed – as a result, it feels tired, dated and wildly unfunny for the most part.