Interview: Alan Mandel (Frankenstein: The Metal Opera)

FRANKENSTEIN-THE-METAL-OPERAThere’s a lot of interest in Frankenstein at the moment. Big Finish’s adaptation of the novel is out this month with Arthur Darvill and Nicholas Briggs; the Jonny Lee Miller/Benedict Cumberbatch National Theatre version is playing at cinemas later in the year. But during the week over Halloween in a former Gothic church near Canary Wharf, there’s a chance to see a very different version: Frankenstein, The Metal Opera. With lyrics by Richard Campbell and Carol Pestridge and composed by Campbell, the Metal Opera is faithful to Mary Shelley’s original novel. The project is seeking additional funds through Kickstarter, and award-winning director Alan Mandel discussed the project with Paul Simpson…



How did you get involved with Frankenstein: The Metal Opera?

I’ve been friends with Carol and Richard for ten years now; I went to university with Carol back in the day. We’ve all taken different paths and done a lot of different things.

Richard had originally done the story of Orpheus as his first rock opera. It was a short version, testing things out. He’s been very inspired by prog metal bands like Dream Theatre and Symphony X, and things like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds as well. He wanted to create some kind of rock opera.

Two years ago Carol came up with the idea of doing Frankenstein and that was released in December 2012. The Landless Theatre Company in Washington DC listened to it on Spotify and asked if they could do it as a show. Richard had already imagined it as a show, but not having a theatre mind didn’t have a concept of how it could work.

It’s not written in a theatrical way…

Not at all. Frankenstein essentially sings the majority of it, and obviously for the show we’ve given that to Walton and the two new characters, Jacob and Florence, so we’re expanding the roster.

In June last year Carol and Richard flew out to watch it. It was obviously very surreal to see it up on stage, and great to see what was in their heads come to life, but as soon as it was finished, they knew they wanted to do it themselves. They had all these ideas mulling around in their heads, and as soon as they touched back down here in the UK, they gave me a call, and said they wanted me to help.

Frakenstein - Workshop Edition 2013 - Frankenstein's WorkshopWe began with a workshop last year where we cut out a lot of the songs, and changed a few of the lyrics. We were testing things out for the audiences and for the show in the larger scale of what we were planning, and we were lucky enough to have the Rose & Crown pub in Ealing to have our location.

However because of the timeframe of coming back and getting the pub location confirmed, we only had three weeks for our full turnaround – casting, rehearsals, everything. It’s not a traditional musical theatre show where you can pick up the score and read it. There’s loads of different time signatures and everything that comes with metal, and Richard doesn’t necessarily write for singers! He’s a drummer. To do that in three weeks last year was a challenge, and again, some things worked, some things didn’t.

It was just in the pub – we didn’t have a set, there was very basic costume. It was very much a workshop, but we did it Friday and Saturday (Halloween and the following night) and it was a massive success. We had over 150 people in the pub both nights; we didn’t sell tickets, it was by invitation. The final night, the performers, particularly the Creature, had to push through people to get to stage. People with their pints were wondering who was pushing them and turned round to realise it was actually the Creature!

Frakenstein - Workshop Edition 2013 - Creature & JustineFrom there we knew what we wanted to do to build it to the next stage. Carol and Richard continued changing lyrics, and we were pushing different ideas around – putting the old songs back in, adding the new characters, changing bits and pieces – until finally we thought it was ready and started looking for locations again to see where it was going to be.

On entering The Space just by Canary Wharf, it was a no-brainer it was going to be there – it’s an old Gothic church that has been converted, so as soon as you walk up, even before you enter, you get this amazing view. As soon as you walk in, not only does it look great, but it has that creepy vibe.

How much has it changed from the album?

There are certain things that we changed for the Halloween edition; we’ve now changed some more again. The more that you put it up on its feet – we’ve done some workshops with our cast to check things out – you realise which bits don’t work. We’re always up for more changes.

We wanted the band very much to be a part of the performance, so people aren’t just listening to the music and watching an event. It is a metal show as well. The band form part of the ship’s crew, so they’re always on stage. Drums, guitar, and bass guitar; no keyboard at this time. It’s much more to do with the physical nature of The Space.

The Space is fantastic and is great for this stage of our production but we know the next step, and where we want to take it. We can get 60 people in per show, for six shows. It’s relatively small, but The Space can be adapted to lots of different sets, but because of what we wanted and planned, the set comes a little bit forward into the audience. We know where this can go, and the potential of what it can be, so we’re not going to cram in too many audience members and sacrifice on the vision.

When we went to The Space, we measured every inch, and then Richard started using a 3D modelling programme called SketchUp that you put in all the dimensions and it recreates it. Our set builders were working from that; when we get it in it might be that we can add another row.

Original Concept Album CoverWhere are you at in terms of rehearsals?

We’ve brought a number of performers back from last year from the workshop; we thought they did such a fantastic job that we wanted to take them on the journey with us. Because of the new characters we needed to audition for a few more people; that’s all set now. They have the script and the backing vocals. We saw our full set up for the first time; having an idea in your head, and you sketch it, then hand it over – then you go and it’s actually there. It’s better than you can imagine.

The album was 62 minutes or so; how long is the show?

It’s a few minutes longer – we’re saying it’s around 70 minutes straight through. The way Richard likes to write it is this one-act piece, this is our story. To elaborate it further where we are at the moment would detract from the story.

Why did you turn to Kickstarter?

One of the main aspects is publicity, and spreading the word. It’s a fantastic avenue to do so, getting people to find out about the show, this different genre: metal opera. We did some research to find out what else is out there and there isn’t much. There are some conceptual bands which did some albums, but in terms of staging, nothing. There are rock operas, like Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You, even to some extent Rent; they’re much more the pop rock musical theatre. We’re leaning further in the other direction while still making it accessible.

One of the things we need to combat is the idea of “metal” – some people wonder how it’s going to work, so decide they’ve got to come to see, but others say “metal – isn’t that just loud guitars and shouting?” Being able to say it’s a lot more than that is part of the challenge, and through the publicity and the Kickstarter, we can show there is more.

Frankenstein TMO - Full-CastAlso, so many people don’t realise that Frankenstein isn’t the monster! Roy Ryan, who’s playing Frankenstein, announced it on social media, and everyone thought he was the creature. Being able to combat that is another big thing.

The money is going to really help with the lights, because the lighting system was non-existent last time. We are working with a really great production team called IOGIG, who have worked on loads of great operas around the country. They’re helping us with the production side. We’ve got a costume designer who’s working on all the German expressionist, Dr Caligari, Nosferatu-inspired costumes; that money is going to help us, even though it’s relatively small in West End terms. Sound gear with microphones; make-up; special effects to create the Creature. We have a Creature on the slab, but we’re taking the build of the Creature in different directions. Through that, we’re taking it a little bit more the realistic side, not green and bolts. The Creature has to be able to sing the whole way through the show so it has to be comfortable for the performer.

We also wanted the transparency of Kickstarter, so people can see the process and what we’re doing. It’s been quite successful: the amount of followers we have on Twitter and Facebook have at least doubled since last year.

Director Alan Mandel

Director Alan Mandel

How’s the Kickstarter going?

Very well, thank you. We’re all a little surprised how quickly it spiralled out of control, which is great. It goes to show how the album and everything last year, and the call for metal opera is quite big out there.

And you’ve been very realistic about what you’re after…

That was one of the things we wanted from the beginning. The show was going to happen and was booked in even before we began the Kickstarter. It wasn’t “make or break, we need this otherwise we can’t do it”. Obviously everything helps and is going to help make it as good as it can possibly be; we can afford to make it that little bit more spectacular. The sound department, the costume department can all help from that little bit of extra cash. The two grand is what we were looking at and anything else is going to be brilliant.

Richard Campbell

Richard Campbell

Carol Pestridge

Carol Pestridge

We’ve got a load of people supporting it from around the world; one was from Sweden who said he’d found the album because we have some of the tracks on Rock Band. He bought a CD, and he’s pledged and is coming all the way from Sweden to watch it. People from America have donated; people we don’t know have come across it through Kickstarter or other articles they’ve read.


Click here to support the project on Kickstarter (it closes at 10am Wednesday 10th September)

Click here to buy tickets for the performances.





  1. Pingback: Last chance to back Frankenstein: The Metal Opera | Sci-Fi Bulletin - September 9, 2014

  2. Pingback: Frankenstein lives yet again! | Sci-Fi Bulletin - October 23, 2014

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