Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director and present-day Morrissey lookalike, can either do no wrong or has become a populist scientist. By returning to stage direction for the first time in nearly 30 years, he helmed an adaptation of Frankenstein, pulled Benedict Cumberbatch (star of a recently televised and very well-received Sherlock Holmes adaptation) into the fold and compelled most of London to get to the theatre. Boyle also summoned Underworld, who had previously scored his 2006 film Sunshine, to score the production. In doing so, Boyle found the real key to his victory. While the production has its flaws, Underworld’s score is largely remarkable.
Being a play about a monster created from different parts, it is only fitting that Underworld’s score follows suit and takes elements from all styles of music. There are sea shanties and wedding toasts, industrial flashes, touches of folk and even flamenco. The only purely Underworld moment—which soundtracks two beggars attacking the creature—lasts all of 58 seconds. With or without knowledge of the visuals, it is a thrilling almost-minute.
The mix of styles is apparent from the opening “Overture”, a 17-minute collage of key moments from the score. Although this piece gives little indication as to where the play is heading, it provides enough teasers to get the listener excited. “Overture” gives way to “Incubator”, which plays as the Creature takes its first steps. Appropriately, the song invokes heartbeat, sudden movement and energy. The heartbeat sound returns on closer “Come Scientist Destroy”, bringing the score—and the production as a whole—full circle. Musical parallels appear throughout the score. “Creature Banishment and Cottagers Burn” and “The Alps” both make use of industrial noises, the clanking and turning of mechanical wheels, to illustrate the Creature gaining power and exacting revenge, something manmade short-circuiting and overpowering its inventor. This disruption occurs again at the end of “Wedding Song”. The piece begins with the wedding party singing a toast to Dr. Frankenstein and his wife Elizabeth, then devolves into terror as the Creature disrupts the newlyweds’ brief spell of happiness. All moments of beauty are short-lived and less memorable than the score’s more foreboding moments. “Dawn of Eden” and “Faery Folk and Nightingale” use choruses and gentle guitars to create flashes of optimism that are swiftly torn asunder by high-wattage violence and, in the case of “Female Creature Dream”, touches of sensuality.
In interviews, Underworld members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have mentioned that they initially approached scoring Frankenstein by studying musical styles relevant to the era in which the play is set. Although Boyle appreciated their baroque findings, he encouraged them to soundtrack the play with more contemporary sounds. In this suggestion Boyle again revealed his savvy. Although a baroque soundtrack would root the production more firmly in classical theater, a patchwork of sounds gave Underworld the freedom to mold the score to their whim, from heightening the action unfolding on stage to expanding the mind’s eye and imagination of those who couldn’t get a seat to the play or catch one of the National Theatre’s broadcasts of the production. If Boyle continues to dabble in theater direction, we can only hope that he continues using Underworld as his secret ingredient.