Young Frankenstein is a hit on the West End after it flopped on Broadway. But Cindy Marcolina is still puzzled by its inherent misogyny:

Mel BrooksYoung Frankenstein is brought back to life at the Garrick Theatre ten years after its less-than-dazzling Broadway stint. It’s everything you want a good night out to be – witty one-liners, clever humour, ludicrous innuendos, beautiful costumes (William Ivey Long), brilliant direction (Susan Stroman), wonderful performances and stunning voices.

Hadley Fraser is spot on as Frederick Frankenstein and even though his obnoxious wig doesn’t truly give him a mad scientist vibe, it does slightly make him look like Gene Wilder’s lost son. His sparkling chemistry with Ross Noble becomes an exquisite series of hilarious gags; his relationships with both the over-the-top Elizabeth (Dianne Pilkington) and the athletic, unashamed Inga (Summer Strallen) are the perfect chance for a train of smirks and laughs. Frau Blucher’s name still gets a reaction from the horses and Mel Brooks’ comedy is still very much alive.

Ross Noble & Hadley Fraser

The film’s parodistic style isn’t lost in its staged version either – where the original material mocks the classic horror genre and slapstick comedy, the show adds in vaudeville and painted backdrops so effortlessly it seems as if it was born on a stage. Whether you know the film by heart, or you’re getting introduced to Brooks’ style through his musical creature, it’s perfect. Almost.

Audiences loved it during previews, critics loved it on press night and I’m sure people will keep laughing their hats off in the future. Stellar reviews have been written and Young Frankenstein is now regarded as a hit show. But, upon reading the official verdicts that are published after opening night, it quickly became soon clear that all but a couple (from joint lead critic for The Stage, Natasha Tripney, and from Alice Saville in Exeunt Magazine) seemed to gloss over some huge faux pas.

And it has left me baffled

We are living in a society where we cannot keep quiet when it comes to sexual and domestic abuse, nor when it comes to the representation of women. I understand that the details in Young Frankenstein that particularly irked me come from a Nixon-era film and that I should just

lighten up and enjoy a funny show“.

But I can’t do that

Not with Harvey Weinstein’s accusations finally getting media coverage; not when Roman Polanski still won an Oscar after raping a 13-year-old girl; not when the world pretends Casey Affleck didn’t do anything wrong.

Summer Strallen & the chorus of Young Frankenstein

It’s impossible to ignore the way Young Frankenstein treats and represents women, especially because it’s such a good show. All the gags are there to make people laugh, so we probably shouldn’t take these backhanded details so seriously. But it is important to point them out – they all contribute to how the real world treats the female sex. As a firm believer that the arts and the media have a direct impact on people’s lives, excusing this sort of depictions is appalling.

It’s a wonderful show, as long as you can identify and single out blatant sexism

At the very beginning of the show, Elizabeth bursts out in a song saying how Frederick can do everything he wants to her as long as he doesn’t touch her (‘Please Don’t Touch Me’). Isn’t it interesting that it’s the girl who’s so adamant about her fiancé refraining from putting his hands on her, who then gets raped? Elizabeth’s response to being carried away by the monster so he can have his way with her is simply to be okay with it and fall in love because he has a huge schwanzstucker. But what happens to her defeats the purpose of personal consent. She’s clear with the monster, she repeats herself, and she is still forced into sex.

And then we ask why there are people who still defend Harvey Weinstein

Frau Blucher’s song ‘He Vas My Boyfriend’ reveals her relationship with Victor and professes her love for him, even though he abused her. Both instances get uproarious laughter in the context (especially the song, as Lesley Joseph embodies the housekeeper with refined hardness), but they can’t be overlooked.

Lesley Joseph, Ross Noble, Hadley Fraser & Summer Strallen

It’s only fair to also mention that the misogynistic nature of the film is also transposed to the musical – men are linked to brains and intelligence, women are all legs and frills. Both Elizabeth and Inga are there in relation to Frederick, as Frau Buchler was initially for Victor and is now for his grandson. It generates laughs and it’s vital to the story, but it needs to be highlighted as questionable for the progress of the industry.

Ross Noble

We don’t need to slam a funny, lighthearted musical and trash it, but we do need to open a healthy conversation on why it is problematic. A well-directed and well-conveyed joke is as damaging as a crass one, but it only takes one line to condemn the actions of a character on a stage. Staying silent about this kind of issue only perpetuates their aftermath.

 

To read more about Young Frankenstein, which is currently booking at the Garrick Theatre until 29 September 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@youngfrankldn) or visit the website – youngfrankenstein.co.uk