Perth Theatre

Three stars

Until September 21


Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Four stars

Various dates until September 26

North and South

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Three stars

Various dates until September 25


Has there ever been a more urgent moment for a stage adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s great novel Frankenstein? A tale of human science’s catastrophic capacity to overreach itself, this evergreen book seems increasingly pertinent in the age of Artificial Intelligence and climate chaos.

Rona Munro’s new stage version of the novel doesn’t labour this significance, instead allowing it to play through the narrative. Which is a good thing, or, rather, it would be had she not invented an interventionist novelist-narrator (nominally Wollstonecraft Shelley herself) and, in so doing (and with unintended irony), created a monster.

Munro and director Patricia Benecke begin the story towards its end, with the ill-fated explorer Walton and his crew stuck in the ice of the North Pole. The wretched Dr Victor Frankenstein and his all-too-human creation sighted, we return to the origins of the tale, as its author (played by Eilidh Loan) throws herself breathlessly into the process of writing her magnum opus.

It is here, just minutes into the play, that the piece begins to unravel. Rather than the thoughtful, radical humanist we know Wollstonecraft Shelley to have been, Benecke and Munro bring us a frenetic, self-satisfied, somewhat cynical, wise-cracking figure, more akin to an abrasive, 21st-century advertising executive than a cerebral Gothic novelist.

One wouldn’t deny director and adapter their right to artistic licence, of course. There is nothing wrong, per se, in reimagining the author for dramatic effect. The problem is that (through no fault of the very capable Ms Loan) the character of Wollstonecraft Shelley quickly becomes an objectionable distraction, rather than a facilitator of the action.

Which is a great pity, as an accomplished cast (including Michael Moreland’s sympathetic-yet-frightening monster; which speaks, for some reason, with a southeast of England working-class accent) does a very reasonable job of presenting the story. Becky Minto’s clever, white, two-level set impresses, managing, as it does, to combine the North Pole, Frankenstein’s library-cum-laboratory, a forest and, Munro is careful to include, lodgings in Perth. It is a production that might have been remembered for more than its misconceived caricature of one of England’s most influential novelists.

Over at Perthshire’s other repertory playhouse, Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) is presenting another play of undeniable contemporary resonance. As sectarian clashes in Glasgow reminded us how intertwined are the histories of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the revival of Nicola McCartney’s 1998 drama Heritage could hardly be more timely.

Set in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan during and after the First World War, the play charts the uneasy coexistence of two families of Irish migrants. The newly arrived Macraes (who are Protestant and fervently Loyalist) find themselves unexpectedly close to second generation settlers the Donaghues (Catholic and, thanks more to resolute matriarch Emer than her forward-looking son Peter, avowedly Republican).

The innocent, yet dangerously transgressive, love affair of young Sarah Macrae and Peter’s daydreaming son Michael creates tensions between and within the families. Neither the vastness of the Atlantic nor the great expanse of the Canadian wilderness can diminish the pull of Irish history, especially when Britain is at war and calling upon its empire for support.

There is, in truth, something of a tension in McCartney’s script between her desire to allow the politics and history to play out through the narrative and her instinct to explain, rather than merely show. Consequently, the play has a schematic aspect that hampers its dramatic rhythm at times.

Nevertheless, it is an engaging and enduring story, and one which director Richard Baron tells with considerable style and energy. Designer Ken Harrison’s appropriately rural wooden set (which is lit intelligently by Wayne Dowdeswell) is surprisingly versatile.

The women shine in a slightly uneven cast, with memorable performances from Claire Dargo (Sarah’s mother Ruth, who amuses when she justifies her virulent anti-Catholicism by reference to the “bigotry” of Roman Catholics), Deirdre Davis (Emer) and Fiona Wood (Sarah).

The storytelling is somewhat less effective in PFT’s presentation of North and South, Janys Chambers’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel of stark regional and, more importantly, class distinctions in 19th-century England. In general, episodic novels, such as Gaskell’s, lend themselves less generously to the possibilities of theatre than do more psychological and philosophical prose fictions (such as Kafka’s The Trial or, indeed, Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein).

It is almost inevitable that director Elizabeth Newman’s staging of the tortured love between northern English mill owner John Thornton and southern vicar’s daughter Margaret Hale should feel dry and laboured. Neither Chambers nor a palpably variable ensemble (in which, in fairness, Claire Dargo shines as Margaret) are able to find in Gaskell’s story an essential, theatrical spark.

Designer Amanda Stoodley doesn’t help matters with a quasi-abstract set that manages, somehow, to be distractingly literal. Likewise the amateur actors of the “community cast”, who, in the play’s moment of dramatic class conflict, are required to perform beyond their abilities.