27 Mar 2024

Mark Bruce Company in Frankenstein & Liberation Day

Jonathan Goddard is the Monster and carries the show, be he reticently childlike in learning about himself, falling in love or as a vengeance-seeking murderer…

Jonathan Goddard in Frankenstein. Photo © Mark Bruce.Jonathan Goddard in Frankenstein. Photo © Mark Bruce.

Mark Bruce Company
Frankenstein, Liberation Day
London, The Place
26 March 2024

A new work by Mark Bruce is always a notable event and the opening night of his company’s all too brief London run of Frankenstein was heaving with the great and the good keen to see what he is up to. All the more poignant perhaps because the award-winning company, along with some others, shockingly lost their Arts Council regular (NPO) funding last year, so to keep going and get anything on is a wonderful achievement. But how fares the art in such chilly circumstances? And the answer is that the company can still pull a memorable show together, featuring, as ever, a terrific bunch of dramatic dancers.

Bruce’s take on Frankenstein is a pared back 50 minutes long, presented with six dancers on a stripped, black box stage. It takes forward all the Georgian melodrama and cosy flickering footlights of the era without the usual design heaviness. It’s an agile, episodic production, scenes changing slickly thanks to Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting, if last night there was one hiccup that briefly paused the action. I do applaud its sense of pace, if at times I’d have liked to linger on some scenes and I felt a little too hustled along in an emotional sense. A plot synopsis in the programme would also be helpful.

Jonathan Goddard is the Monster and carries the show, be he reticently childlike in learning about himself, falling in love or as a vengeance-seeking murderer. Breathtakingly moving, you want to see more of him - more of his exquisitely expansive movement, more of his dramatic face, confused by a world he doesn’t fit into. Dominic Rocca (Doctor Frankenstein) and Eleanor Duval (Prometheus) preside over his birth’ from an assemblage of corpses, and strongly support the later action too. There is also a wonderful duet with Cordelia Braithwaite’s Bride of the Monster and the only time when Goddard becomes totally at one as a body rather than a collection of parts. The music, a mix of Chopin, Penderecki and Arvo Pärt, also drives the action convincingly. All up, what I saw I liked, but I think there is a slightly longer, 4-star, work lurking within this telling of Frankenstein.

Opening the evening was the 20-minute-long Liberation Day: A powerful, contemplative dance work about life, love, and the passing of time, danced to songs written by Bruce.” It does what it says on the tin and affably introduces us to the six dancers. It would be far too cruel to say it is a makeweight piece, but neither does it feel like a major Mark Bruce creation. As for Frankenstein, Liberation Day is led out by Jonathan Goddard and Eleanor Duval, and they do smoulder well as a couple. While hardly veteran dancers, they have more than a little life experience and I like the texture that gives their duets, and it also works well with the careworn guitar and singing of Bruce and Eva Trodd.

Good to see Mark Bruce Company again, and they should be seen much more around the country. I hope the Arts Council revisits funding in some way - meanwhile, catch them when you can.