Check out a video interview with ex-Eastenders star Lacey Turner and Fast Show star Mark Williams ahead of Frankenstein’s Wedding...Live in Leeds.
It’s a world away from the royal wedding we’re all expecting in April but this weekend Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds will host a betrothal bash like no other... Neil Hudson went behind the scenes of what promises to be the scariest wedding you’ll ever see.
As we make our way into the grounds of historic Kirkstall Abbey, it’s clear something rather unusual is going on.
It looks like the set of a Hollywood movie.
There are about a dozen caravan-style trailers parked directly opposite the abbey and further down rows of generators, huge lighting rigs and thick streams of cable meandering around the irregular walls of the old monastery and occasionally leaping up to pour themselves through its numerous windows and archways only to disappear into some other part of the labyrinthine ruin.
Moments later, to add to the surreal nature of the day, Mark Williams (of Harry Potter and The Fast Show fame) shuffles past and gives a cheery ‘Hello’ from beneath his woolly hat and cup of steaming coffee.
We are on the set of Frankenstein’s Wedding, the latest foray by the BBC into live theatre.
The idea was based on the Manchester Passion and Liverpool Nativity, both successful television mass participation events broadcast several years ago.
This time it coincidentally ties in with Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre. The cast includes former Eastenders star Lacey Turner as Elizabeth, Andrew Gower as Victor and David Harewood as the Creature, not to mention an audience of 12,500 people, many of whom will act as extras in the live performance.
As if to deepen the mood yet further, on the day we visit, the sky is overcast and gloomy and there’s a bitter chill in the air, all of which adds to the macabre setting.
The ruins of Kirkstall Abbey have long been coveted by theatre and TV productions for their grandeur or overpowering sense of quietude.
It’s a sensation which has not been lost on the cast, many of whom have never seen the abbey before.
Lacey Turner took a few moments from her hectic rehearsal schedule to tell us what she thought of the setting.
“It’s such a beautiful place. I’ve been here for the last couple of weeks. I have not been to Leeds before. It’s a stunning place and really appropriate for what we are doing. In the evening it’s going to be even more spooky, which will make a great atmosphere.
“It’s a live show, so you get one chance, which is partly the reason why I took the job, because it’s exciting. It’s such an unusual project – it has a bit of drama, a bit of music, a bit of dancing.”
She added: “The audience is going to be 12,000, I’ve been trying not to think about that.”
She wasn’t the only one to be impressed by the spectacular destitution of the abbey. Mark Williams is no stranger to grand productions. He has just finished a film with Glenn Close and plays Alfons, the father of Victor Frankenstein.
He said: “It’s big though isn’t it? It’s nice to spend so much time in a building like this because normally you visit places but do not get to know them, but this has been nice, because you start to see the detail and work out how it was built and it’s impressive.”
He added: “I play Alfons, Mr we are assuming this is his house.
“It’s great fun to do and I think that will come across – it will be a great piece of telly.”
If those two weren’t a big enough draw for audiences, there’s also David Harewood (Friar Tuck in Robin Hood), who has appeared in numerous TV series and big budget movies, including Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo De Caprio, Gemima Rooper (Sugar Rush, The Black Dahlia) and Andrew Gower (ITV’s Monroe), who plays Victor Frankenstein and who is very fond of Leeds.
He said: “I’m familiar with the city. I’ve worked here before and I have friends at the university. I know all the restaurants and places to go. I love Leeds.
“I have been on the project for about two months now. It’s an amazing setting, especially at night, so thanks for letting us have it!
“I’ve never done live TV before and this is on a huge scale. On TV you are used to five cameras but here there’s ten times that, plus dancers, it’s probably something I will never do again in my life, if I get a second job like this I will be very surprised. It was too good to turn down.
“On a regular TV show you have people stopping and starting you and you do one thing 14 times, with this there will be no-one saying cut. It’s just about immersing yourself in the production. It’s very similar to theatre, especially for myself and Lacey, who go on a real journey.”
The 90-minute open-air theatre production will be screened live on BBC3 on Saturday night but there will also be an audience of over 12,000 people at the abbey. Several hundred of them have taken special dance classes, courtesy of Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Company who are choreographing the dance routines in the show itself.
Producers have asked audience members to get into the spirit of the show by turning up in their best or most flamboyant wedding clothes.
Frankenstein’s Wedding... Live In Leeds is a bold re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein.
While it remains true to the themes of the original story, it centres on Victor Frankenstein’s wedding, which is mentioned in the book, albeit briefly.
The audience will see the world through the Creature’s eyes – how he is rejected for the way he looks and his desire to belong; how he feels when Victor breaks his promise to make him a female companion, realising his existence will continue to be lonely and loveless.
He is driven to murderous revenge, which will all be played out in what promises to be a mesmerising confrontation between Creature and his creator.
Harry Lansdown, Acting Controller of BBC Three, said: “I’m thrilled that BBC Three is using the magnificent Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds to bring the story of Frankenstein to a live audience, as well as the viewers watching at home. The event will provide a unique, modern-day portrayal of this classic story, with tense drama and contemporary music and dance at its heart.”
Frankenstein’s Wedding... Live In Leeds is part of the BBC’s Year Of Books events, which aims to bring works of literature to life and allow people to experience them in new ways.