Tokenism Gone Mad

I went to see Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre, yesterday. It really is a “must see” event. The staging is superb, the script accurately reflects the eloquence of Mary Shelley’s novel, and Johnny Lee Miller’s performance as The Creature was astounding, portraying a moving evolution from incoherent newborn to the intelligent, articulate but frustrated and vengeful central character of the original story. Unfortunately I can’t comment on Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as he was unwell, but his understudy competently portrayed Frankenstein and the conflicting emotions which drive him.

However, some of the supporting cast decisions were odd, to say the least. Most strange was the decision that while Victor Frankenstein and his brother William were both white, his father was played by a black actor, George Harris. Now Harris is a fine actor, and I have no problem with him playing a rich, powerful man in the right context – 2010 Britain, for example. But to cast him as Frankenstein senior, a Baron in early 1800s Switzerland, and in a story where one of the key themes is the inability of humans to see past The Creature’s physical difference from themselves to his inner abilities, that’s just plain wrong. It grated with me, and from comments I heard it grated with others too.

If that casting decision was PC tokenism, it was misplaced. If Danny Boyle was deliberately trying to contrast the loathing for the creature with our modern acceptance of people of different appearances, then it backfired. Sometimes the obvious route is the right one.

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