Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein

Date 19th April 2022
Society Benchmark Musical Theatre
Venue New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
Type of Production Musical
Director Nick Williams
Musical Director Luke Marshall
Choreographer Bee Anderson

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Author: Mark Donalds

Wow! A new force to be reckoned with, Benchmark Musical Theatre, burst onto the Portsmouth theatre scene last night with this fast-paced and energetic production of Mel Brooks’ comedy “Young Frankenstein”. It is based on his and Gene Wilder’s 1974 film of the same name, directed by and starring Brooks, with Wilder in the title role. I remember it being the film to go and see when it came out (yes, I am that old!) but it took quite a while for a musical version to appear, eventually making its debut in the West End in 2017. It was well worth the wait, as Brooks has retained all the comedy of the film and added some great musical numbers.

Not by design, thanks to Covid, Benchmark had a low-key birth in 2019 and this is the first full-scale book show they have produced, but boy has it come into the world kicking and screaming. Nick Williams’ inventive direction is evident throughout, and he has chosen a vibrant young cast to bring the piece to life.

In the lead as Victor Frankenstein (or should I say “Fronkensteen”?) was Adam Fox, exuding charm and confidence, with a wonderful singing voice and very fleet of foot in all his movements. Superb characterisation came from Ben Horner as his trusty sidekick Igor, with perfect comic timing and many times reminding me of Marty Feldman (from the film). Sarah Melville was perfect as Inga, Frankenstein’s Swedish assistant, and they got up to some wonderful antics on stage in their scenes together. Beverley Seal portrayed Frankenstein’s voluptuous and self-obsessed fiancée perfectly, so easily transferring her affections to the Monster when presented with his charms, and demonstrating a beautiful singing voice. Perry Ralls was well cast as the Monster, making him more endearing than frightening and managing to convey a lot with his grunts. Emma Brown was a wonderfully formidable Frau Blűcher, while Alan Jenkins made Inspector Kemp very Teutonic, somehow managing to keep a straight face during some terrible jokes. Tony Dart gave a great cameo performance as the blind Hermit.

Much more elaborate sets were used than I’ve been used to of late, with good quality props and furniture, and flown-in backcloths. I particularly liked the laboratory with the electrical equipment and rotating bookcase. Scene changes, performed by the cast and crew, were efficient and smooth, never delaying the action in this frenetic show. Lighting (Lee Stoddart) was well designed, giving great atmosphere to all the scenes, and the costumes were all well chosen and just right for the settings. The orchestra, under MD Luke Marshall, consisted mostly of traditional instruments and sounded good, never overwhelming the singers – thanks too to Rob Sarahs on sound for getting the balance just right. Luke must have drilled the singers well – choral and solo singing were all of excellent quality. Dancing and movement too were well-drilled, with some impressive big showpieces, all perfectly executed.

I left the theatre feeling really invigorated and uplifted by the show – some of the energy and enthusiasm of the cast having somehow been transferred to me. This new company has chosen a very apt name – they certainly are the “Benchmark” by which everyone else must now measure themselves. In all respects a totally professional and enjoyable production.