Blog | Frankenstein, 1945: Where research and imagination meet

Frankenstein, 1945: Where research and imagination meet

By admin | September 22, 2016

Local playwright/director/performer Mily Mumford’s Frankenstein, 1945 opens October 24 and runs through October 30 as part of Theatre Wire’s upcoming season. Theatre Wire spoke with Mily, a graduate of biotechnology and creative writing from Camosun College and Neuroscience from the University of Victoria about her script and what people can expect from the show.

Mily's love of film noir is apparent in the poster for Frankenstein, 1945.

Mily’s love of film noir is apparent in the poster for Frankenstein, 1945. Photo Credit: Matt Reznek Poster Design: Marc Junker. Actors: Madelyn Osborne and Gregory Radzimowski.

Tell us about your script, what is the gist of the story:
The story follows Victor Frankenstein, a young doctor whose internship landed him in the Nazi medical experiments under neurologist Herta Oberheuser, and a young Jewish engineer, Elizabeth Lavenskova, who has been posing as Victor’s cousin to avoid prosecution. Frankenstein leaves the medical experiments as soon as he realizes what they are doing to people in the camps, but he is haunted by the horrors he witnessed. He wants to use the techniques he learned from his supervisor for good, and bring people back from the dead. He gets Elizabeth on board to help with the electrical engineering component of the reanimation process. They succeed and create the creature, and of course all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile a British and American spy who have been partnered under Allied military intelligence have started tracking what Frankenstein is doing.

What inspired you to write the show?
The original book Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is very important to me as a writer. I fell in love with it and it is arguably the first true work of science fiction, which is my favourite genre to create in. My academic background is in sciences, specifically biotechnology and neuroscience, so the story appeals to me from a scientific point of view as well. The themes of mortality and the ethics of medical and scientific advancement are still so important and relevant to both today and to the setting I chose for this adaptation—the Nazi medical experiments and Nuremberg Trials. I also wanted to combine my love of the text with my love of film noir, which inspired the aesthetic and style of the play.

Is the story based on a true event? If so what did you need to do to reshape the story into the guise of a play?
The story is fictitious but set in a real time in history and against real events. I took the backdrop of the Nazi medical experiments at Ravensbruck, post war Berlin, and the Nuremberg Trials and placed the characters of Frankenstein within them. So of course many things that happen in the play actually happened. Herta Oberheuser, for example, who is Victor Frankenstein’s supervisor, was in fact a real neurologist at Ravensbruck who did nerve grafting experiments—but she never had a student who used her methods to reanimate the dead. It’s all a blending of true events and how these characters would have reacted to them.

Did you conduct any research in order to write the play? How did you research it?
Yes! My scientific background helped in thinking about how the real medical experiments done in Ravensbruck could feasibly be used to reanimate dead tissue—though with all science fiction there is still fiction to the science or we’d be walking amongst Frankenstein’s monsters already. I did a lot of work both online, watching documentaries and reading books. My father was a war historian so I conveniently have always had a lot of books at my disposal on the Second World War.

A great deal of research was also done on the style and aesthetic of film noir. I ended up watching a lot of classics (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Heat) as well as spending what felt like a full week at Cinematheque’s Film Noir Festival. I survived on popcorn and root beer for a while there.

What else do you want us to know about the play?
I am very proud of it! It takes a time period I am fascinated by (and share a lot of heritage with) as well as a classic science fiction story I love. It also represents the point of views of a lot of female characters based on women who actually existed, and the exploration of things like queerness and identity in such a violent and tumultuous time—all of which are voices and perspectives that are very important to me as a writer.

Get your tickets to Frankenstein, 1945 now!

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