Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

Michaela Preiner

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October 2022

Salzburg is always worth a detour. Not only because of its historical, architectural uniqueness. Theatre enthusiasts will also find a range of events there that is well worth seeing - even outside of the festival.

The Schauspielhaus, which overlooks the back of the Feste Salzburg, can almost be described as an insider tip. Although it is the largest independent theatre with a fixed ensemble, it surprisingly does not really get much attention beyond the region. Wrongly so. Because it offers a great variety of productions with currently 10 premieres per season. The second production this season, “Frankenstein”, is the responsibility of Jérôme Junod, the current theatre director and head dramaturge. He made his debut at the theatre last year with “King Arthur”, his own new version of the historical material. Due to a lockdown, this remarkable production was unfortunately only performed a few times. Now he has written his own stage version of Mary Shelley’s play, which was written in 1816, and given it a very special, novel drive.

The story can be imagined metaphorically like a Russian matryoshka doll – as a play, in a play, in a play. One after the other, different narrative strands develop, starting and ending with Roberta Walton. This one – richly endowed with male dominance – is an adventurer of the purest water who wants to reach the North Pole with a small crew on her own ship. Petra Staduan embodies not only this female free spirit, but just as magnificently the condemned Justine in the penitential lift, as well as the rebellious Agatha, who denounces the inequality between rich and poor. As Walton, she is almost constantly present on stage and listens to the stories of the young Victor Frankenstein.

The latter, rescued by her from the Nordic ice hell, tells her about his youth and study years at the university in Ingolstadt under the dominance of two cranky professors. These supported him to the point of absolute self-sacrifice in his endeavour to turn dead matter into living matter and create an artificial human being. Antony Connor and Olaf Salzer have the laughs on their side in these delightfully created roles. They also prove their comedic talent as sailors and switch just as skilfully to the serious characters of Frankenstein’s father and a blind revolutionary.

Wolfgang Kandler embodies the inquisitive young scientist who soon has to realise what misfortune he has brought upon his and his family’s lives with the creation of his “creature”. Magdalena Oettl in the role of Elisabeth, his fiancée, also frames the narrative as a new character introduced by Junod, Margaret Saville, a society columnist who is allowed to experience an amazing character development. Paul Andre Worms’s main character, Henry, childhood friend of Victor Frankenstein, is his complete opposite not only in terms of character structure but also visually. Cheerful and fun-loving, helpful and open, he is nevertheless murdered by Frankenstein’s monster out of a thirst for revenge.

Except for the very last scene, the latter appears in black, tight-fitting trousers with a large, black hooded jumper in such a way that one can hardly make out his face. (Costumes Antoaneta Stereva) Hussan Nimr, as Frankenstein’s creature, is permanently in motion, with a dark, threatening voice, and makes his unnatural origins clear through his animal-like movements. He makes off on all fours, he climbs nimbly onto scaffolding and usually stands with his head bowed while he tries to tell his story. It is the ambivalence of this character and, above all, the recognition of why he himself has become a monster, which is very touching and gives the story in the Schauspielhaus in Salzburg its very own colouring. Bernhard Eder provides live musical accompaniment to the action, both vocally and on electric guitar and electronics, thus lending it additional emotional moments.

Junod’s interpretation of “Frankenstein” does not rely on horror effects and the generation of goose bumps in the first place. Instead, it impresses with a finely crafted psychogram of an outsider whose greatest shortcoming is his loneliness, which he tries to sublimate through feelings of revenge and thus becomes a mass murderer. A successful evening of theatre in an autumn in which world history is unfortunately teeming with monsters.

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