BWW Review: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Garrick Theatre
Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein has officially burst into the West End. Based firmly on the movie, also by Brooks, it's brilliantly kitsch, wholly unsubtle and very, very funny.
If you haven't seen the movie, it won't take you long to grasp what's going on. Frederick Frankenstein is a world-renowned expert on the brain. He's been trying to distance himself from the shenanigans of his notorious grandfather Dr. Victor Frankenstein - even to the point of insisting his name be pronounced 'Fronkensteen'.
When he has to return to Transylvania to sort out his grandfather's estate, however, he's drawn into following in those Monster footsteps, aided and abetted by the motley crew of Igor (Ross Noble), Inga (Summer Strallen) and housekeeper Frau Blücher (Lesley Joseph). The local villagers are not impressed; Frederick's haughty fiancée Elizabeth (Dianne Pilkington), who arrives mid-experiment, is significantly more so...
Whilst the plot isn't rocket science (although technically it is brain surgery), it doesn't need to be. Brooks and Thomas Meehan's book is full of genuinely funny gags, full-on slapstick moments and blatant innuendo (a bit too much of the latter for my taste, if I'm totally honest), guaranteeing there'll be something to tickle everyone's funny bone. The music, also by Brooks, is a touch formulaic, but the skilful lyrics are fine compensation for any lack of musical originality.
And oh, the cast! It's vanishingly rare to assemble a group of principals who are all so perfect in their roles. Hadley Fraser positively sparkles as Frederick, totally mastering the deadpan humour, vocal dexterity and choreography to prove he's the real deal as a leading man. Frank(enstein)ly, he has no right to be so charismatic whilst wearing such a dodgy wig and moustache.
Summer Strallen is impossibly peppy as the more-than-flirtatious Inga, utterly unafraid to send herself up and performing one of the most impressively controlled splits you're ever likely to see.
Ross Noble as Igor is stroke-of-genius casting. He brings hilarious hunched physicality in spades, as well as a very solid set of vocals; the perfect stooge to Fraser's boss. Lesley Joseph is delightfully barmy as Frau Blücher, harking back to her time with Victor Frankenstein and egging on Frederick to recreate his achievements.
Dianne Pilkington's Elizabeth shows total abandon in her journey from frigid fiancée to full-on floozy. And Shuler Hensley is simply wonderful as the Monster, capable of stealing any scene with a confused or incredulous cry.
Where the 1974 movie harks back to a bygone age of black-and-white horror films, this stage production draws on Vaudevillian tropes including painted backdrops, terrible dad jokes and an all-out tap routine that reminded me quite how much I enjoy an all-out tap routine. Susan Stroman's direction keeps it all rattling along such that there's simply no time to be bored.
Some of the humour and the lack of variety of musical styles prevents me from giving five stars, but for many Young Frankenstein will be a pretty much perfect production. Yes, it's all hammed up to the max, but it's delicious, honey-roasted, spiced ham - the kind you get to eat so rarely that when it's presented to you, you gobble it down and immediately want seconds.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan