Edinburgh Festival Premiere – set by Derek Blackwood

Dr Stein was a sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, based on the assumption that the good Doctor had not perished in the Arctic but had been rescued, conveyed to Edinburgh and there continued his medical hobbies. Details of the play can be found here.

For the Edinburgh Festival Fringe premiere, we had great fun building the gadgetry traditionally associated with this story. I’m afraid, though, it owed more to Universal Studios 1931 classic than anything described in Mrs Shelley’s novel.

However, that film machinery, designed by a delightfully eccentric electrical engineer, Kenny Strickfaden, used VERY high voltages; 250,000-volt 2-metre sparks are less welcome in our new elfin’safety days. Anyway, actors are not the brightest with gadgets, and it’s difficult to explain afterwards to their mums.

Also our plays don’t quite run to the same budgets, so we had to source our creations from stuff out of car boot sales and the local pound shop.

In the pictures you can see spinning disks (ply with stick-on metallic card segments; some sort of generator (made from plastic bottles holding rotating led toys) with a clunky knife switch (brass brackets with an old toilet pull handle) and a second-hand plasma tube, all in the best steampunk traditions.

In the background is a kind of Van der Graff device – one side is a giant insulator (paper plates stuck together in pairs), the other a “Jacobs ladder” where the electricity climbs steadily up to the top and then disperses. Real ones operate at lethal currents, so instead we used a column of alternating plastic cups and the blank clear protective discs from CD packs; the ladder effect was a circuit from an American manufacturer of model train accessories, which flashes through sets of ten white leds in sequence and then back to the beginning. The brass spheres are plastic footballs sprayed with copper paint.

Combined with smoke, bubbling steam from a fogger, random flashes from an assortment of mini-strobes, green lighting and suitable machine noise sound, the whole assembly gave a very satisfying finale to the first act as Dr Frankenstein’s creation sits up, beating his chest and roaring.

Category: Special Effects

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