Without skipping a beat, Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster lives up to the hype. Dubbed as beatbox theatre, London’s Battersea Arts Centre Beatbox Academy reimagines Mary Shelley’s gothic science-fiction classic, but with live singing, spoken poetry, and a whole lot of vocal percussion.
The production takes you through five chapters of hard-hitting prose and energetic performances in a frame narrative format that will leave you pondering age-old themes found in Shelley’s masterwork: creation, dangerous knowledge, beauty, depravity, and alienation. Even though Frankenstein was penned over 200 years ago, monsters still walk among us, reanimated in the 21st century by human-made inventions, paradoxically leading us to our doom.
Whether it’s social media and self-validation, or beauty ideals causing “burnt toast personalities”, Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster breaks down real-life social calamities with powerful storytelling and sonic artistry rolled into one. In Chapter Two, a particularly witty session pieces together popular musical numbers by the likes of Pachelbel, James Brown, and The Prodigy. You’ll also get to enjoy the monster confronting his creator in a manic beatbox feud; participate in a rave; and watch on, while hoping you don’t get selected yourself, as certain members of the audience get collectively insulted by the cast (all in appropriation for a theatrical snatch on body image).
Thrown into all that are vocal soundscapes so accurate, you’d think your own ears are deceiving you. One moment you are audibly transported to an unspoiled jungle paradise, the next you’re in the middle of a busy intersection trying to block out noise pollution. There will be plenty of times while watching the show you catch yourself unable to fathom that the sounds are really sprouting from the mouths of six impressionable artists: ABH, Glitch, Aminita, Wiz-RD, Grove, and Native.
Wiz-RD’s hypnotic bass line in the first musical number ‘Genius’ reverberates through the entire venue, setting the tone for the rest of the show. Glitch completes her narration with a certainty to behold, joining in vocals with Aminita who has the voice of an angel. Native’s solid beats and his debonair attitude helps sell the show; while ABH, with his ridiculous repertoire of sounds, proves time and time again why he’s the UK’s current beatbox champion. For me though, Grove absolutely raises the roof with her powerful angry lyrics, rapping with all the exasperation anyone could relate to when thinking too hard about the world and its growing pains.
In their Australian debut at the Adelaide Fringe 2020, Beatbox Academy teamed up with South Australia’s own multi-arts institution, Carclew, bringing not only the best beatboxers from the UK, but also showcasing local talent, who in their own right, deserve commendation.
Fourteen-year- old Adelaide rapper Eames, together with beatboxing siblings T-Dog (age 15) and Hailz (age 12), step into the limelight with their curtain-raiser performance, ‘I had a dream’. T-Dog also improvises admirably during a one-on-one beatbox battle endshow against the seasoned UK beatboxers.
Such collaborations are the heartbeat of BAC’s Beatbox Academy, which as director Conrad Murray says, is proud to nurture young talent, and has been doing so for the last 11 years. Their collaborative spirit is portrayed through to the end, with the cast finishing their tremendous show with circle jams and some rounds of beatbox battles that get half the crowd stunned in silent admiration, and the other half roaring with exultant cheers.
This production is a monstrous achievement of epic storytelling and beatboxing that needs to be seen to be believed. If it weren’t for the artists occasionally throwing their heads back for you to spot their quivering vocal cords, you’d think it was all audio trickery. There’s a reason this is one of Adelaide Fringe’s most popular shows this year, but don’t just take my word for it. Go see it for yourselves.
Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster is performing for RCC, Adelaide Fringe 2020, at the University of Adelaide’s The Attic until Sunday 15 March.
Reviewed performance on 5 March 2020