The Victor Experience

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When Hassan Sherif played Frankenstein in his school play, he was not prepared for the all-consuming transformation that awaited him. Here he talks about his process.

I had never previously paid attention to the equally crucial role of his creator, and his complex and battered mind.

When I found out I was to be playing Victor Frankenstein in an upcoming school production, I was ecstatic. I must admit I didn’t appreciate what would await me in the character at the time.

It wasn’t even until I auditioned that I understood the Creature itself wasn’t named Frankenstein and, like countless others, I had never previously paid attention to the equally crucial role of his creator, and his complex and battered mind.

Victor Frankenstein draws parallels with his Creation in his struggles to interpret the world in what others would call ‘the usual way’. Although he is ‘a scholar, a genius!’ as described by his brother William, his work has disturbed his priorities, much to the dismay of those around him.

I found there was no one way to effectively depict Victor.

I found there was no one way to effectively depict Victor. I would need to be simultaneously arrogant and ignorant to portray his unnerving blend of determination, manipulation, and apparent short temperament. This was a strenuous task, since no two scenes are alike with Victor; his fast changes in mood leaving an unpredictable persona around him.

Morphing from stern and intimidating to enthralled and excited in the first act alone was a great way to introduce the character, and demonstrate his ability to swiftly change in personality. During early rehearsals I was keen to experiment with this, and for this reason found myself constantly changing body language and facial expression as well as vocal techniques in order to clearly demonstrate the unpredictable character I was adopting.

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I needed to study in-depth how he has been portrayed over many years, in different mediums.

However, no actor is complete without having background material on their character. The play we were doing at school (the same script used at the National Theatre production, directed by Danny Boyle), does not delve into Victor’s childhood, education, or early experiences.

I needed to study in-depth how he has been portrayed over many years, in different mediums.

The very first ever adaptation of Frankenstein in film, a 16-minute kinetogram, indicated a magical flamboyancy in Victor, though later editions seemed to focus on his motivated curiosity and eccentricity. The great diversity, however, all stemmed from one ultimate origin, and it was plain that I would need to draw upon this to reach a conclusive decision as to how I would personally bring Victor to life. The classic chiller novel by Mary Shelley was key, the book that explored the egotistical nature of man wishing to play God, and hide the true monsters inside himself.

The classic chiller novel by Mary Shelley was key, the book that explored the egotistical nature of man wishing to play God, and hide the true monsters inside himself.

With an understanding as strong as this, my endeavour to present the role through live drama was significantly eased. Performing with the intention of relaying a certain message to the audience, any actor can greatly empathise with their said character. In this instance, it was paramount to portray a man overrun by the possibility of playing God.

Interested in theatre? Want to write for Rife about plays, acting and the medium? Get in touch @rifemag

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