by Paul Stebbings & Phil Smith,
inspired by Mary Shelley´s novel and the Hollywood movies
directed by Paul Stebbings and Gareth Fordred
There are very few authentic modern myths, Frankenstein is one of those few. The Monster disturbs us in a way that Dracula merely frightens. Frankenstein’s monster is clearly a prototype of a very real terror: the fear of a new more powerful life form created by our own hands. That this monster has changed shape and now may lurk within not just the animal but the insect and the vegetable is all the more disturbing. Gene manipulation, stem cell research and cloning are part of our every day lives. The Monster is among us and it is made all the more frightening by those who do not see it as a monster. Of course, science progresses whether we like it or not. Any research that is thwarted in America or Europe will be carried out in Korea or China. Nor is the case clear cut. What right have we to prevent the eradication of malaria or prevent the introduction of vitamin A enriched rice in India (which would prevent the massive incidence of blindness among the very poor). When the Environmentalists of Europe are in alliance with the Christian Right in America, alarm bells ring.
This dilemma is at the heart of the myth and our play. Mary Shelley led the way when she had Frankenstein recoil from his own creation as soon as it was made and deny him his bride. The Hollywood movies did the same. The Frankenstein myth is not about a mad scientist above morality who is out of control. Rather, the myth is about a scientist who instantly sees his folly but is led ever onward by forces he has unleashed. We have tried to follow and develop this theme. Not only Victor but his fiancée’ Elizabeth explore the contradictions and conflicts that scientific progress forces upon us. Should artificial life be created? Should the dead or dying be revived? Once the Monster is created does he deserve a bride? Is killing permitted if it saves life? (something that relates to embryo research as well as murder!). At the same time the play and theme are not sterile or academic, there is a great thrill in creating life and remaking the world. The atom is split, DNA deciphered, stem cells cultivated – the genie is out of the bottle and it is thrilling magic.
Why then so much comedy? (At least until the Monster appears). Frankenstein is a story of human folly and we are ripe for satire. Folly is at the root of most serious comedy. The Hollywood movies admit this and merrily intertwine comedy and melodrama to make such memorable horror. May Shelley employs melodrama in her Gothic novel. On stage melodrama is comic. The Gothic hovers close to the grotesque. When Hamlet meets the Gravedigger comedy results. Comedy and melodrama allow us to explore the myth of Frankenstein. We try to avoid parody (this has been done too well in Mel Brook’s YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN). Our central characters never make jokes, the comedy arises from the situation. In terms of visual and physical style we have looked to the Expressionist films that provided the model for James Whale’s original movies and were in turn inspired by the European Gothic tradition in which Shelly writes. THE CABINET OF DR CALIGIARI, METROPOLIS and even Charlie Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS offer us a style that suits the myth. It is extreme, but then the tale is extreme. We live in extreme times, science offers us salvation or annihilation. Is the idea of the first head transplant a joke or a horror story? The answer may be that it is both. We hope our tale will amuse and chill, and above all raise questions to which we ourselves have no easy answer.
|1. act 50 min
interval 15 min
2. act 40 min
|Victor Frankenstein||Conrad Williamson|
|Elizabeth, his fiancee||Zoe Lambrakis|
|The Monster, The ape||Max Curtis|
|Professor, Igor, Blind man, Gaoler, Citizens of Ingolstadt||Reginald Edwards|
|Directors||Paul Stebbings & Gareth Fordred|
|Composer and M.D.||Paul Flush|
|Costume Design||Christine Leers|
|Producer||Grantly Marshall - ADGE|
|Co-Producer in CZ, SK, PL||Svatopluk Schläfer|
Scientists have made the world's first pure batch of brain stem cells from human stem cells..
Stem cells can change into any type of cell in the body. Austin Smith of Edinburgh University's institute for stem cell research bathed stem cells taken from mouse embryos with two proteins called epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor, both of which are known to be involved in the normal development of the embryonic brain. After his team had shown the process turned embryonic mouse stem cells into brain stem cells, they repeated the experiment on human embryonic stem cells.
Brain stem cells have been grown before but the results have been impure. "You end up with a mixed culture at the end which has not just neural stem cells, it has a lot of contaminating embryonic stem cells," said Steve Pollard, one of Professor Smith's colleagues. The work comes three months after scientists at Newcastle University cloned a human embryo using donated eggs and genetic material from stem cells. Human embryos were first cloned last year by South Korean scientists.
In the short term, the technique will allow scientists to develop cell cultures for their research. "We'll use them in the basic biology sense to try to understand how stem cells work," Professor Pollard said. "It's a good opportunity to understand what the difference is between an embryonic stem cell, which can make anything, and a brain stem cell, which can just make brain."
Genetically modified mosquitoes could soon be released into the wild in an attempt to combat malaria. Scientists at Imperial College London, who created the GM insects, say they could wipe out natural mosquito populations and save thousands of lives in malaria-stricken regions.
Led by Andrea Crisanti, the team added a gene that makes the testicles of the male mosquitoes fluorescent, allowing the scientists to distinguish and easily separate them from females. The plan is to breed, sterilise and release millions of these male insects so they mate with wild females but produce no offspring, eradicating insects in the target region within weeks.
Professor Crisanti said: "Our mosquitoes are nearly ready for testing in the wild. This is a technology that works and could make a real difference. The beauty is that it's very specific. Unlike insecticides, sterile males target only the species you want to attack."
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been using its radiation technology to support health projects, and wants to release sterile mosquitoes to tackle malaria in northern Sudan and on Reunion island in the Indian ocean - but they and other groups have been hampered by an inability to distinguish the males, which do not bite people. Female mosquitoes transmit malaria, even if sterile, so releasing them alongside males would make the situation worse.
Prof Crisanti said: "The really challenging problem is to identify the males. There is no difference between the larvae and as adults they fly, so the logistics of trying to separate them when they're adults is immense."
To solve the problem, his team altered the DNA of the mosquito species Anopheles stephensi, the principal carrier of malaria in Asia, so that the males expressed a fluorescent green protein in their sperm. A sorting machine based on laser light separated male from female larvae, according to whether they glowed or not. Writing in Nature Biotechnology today, the scientists say the machine could sort 180,000 larvae in 10 hours.
The next step is to scale up the technique to provide the millions of GM insects needed to make a large-scale release effective. The scientists also need to check the sterile males will be strong enough to compete with wild rivals when released - the strategy depends on female mosquitoes, who only mate once in their two-week lifespan, choosing sterile males.
Prof Crisanti said other mosquito species could be modified in the same way, including Anopheles gambiae, which is responsible for a large part of the 2.7m deaths caused by malaria each year. Prof Crisanti argued that, because the new GM mosquitoes are sterilised, releasing them into the environment does not pose significant risks: "It won't transmit any genes to the environment. This allows us to test the transgenic technology in a very safe way that overcomes the previous environmental and safety concerns." Releasing males only would ensure people were not bitten by GM mosquitoes, he added.
Sue Mayer of Genewatch agreed that the new GM insect did address some of the previous concerns, but she called for thorough testing of the mosquitoes before they were considered for release. "Changing one gene can sometimes affect others, so there are still questions to ask," she said.
Chris Curtis, a malaria expert with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who worked on the WHO project in India, said: "We were all set to go and there was a huge uproar. You have to handle the public relations very carefully."
The world’s first human head transplants may be just a decade away, a former NHS neurosurgeon has said, after working out how to achieve the groundbreaking operation.
Bruce Mathew, a former Clinical Lead for Neurosurgery at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, is now an expert in hyperbaric medicine, helping divers to recover from the bends.
But while working on a science fiction novel with the futurist author Michal J Lee, he realised there was a plausible way to move the consciousness of one person to another body, and that recent advancements in robotics, stem cell transplants, and nerve surgery now make the prospect achievable within the next decade.
The controversial Italian professor Sergio Canavero is also currently working on the world’s first head transplant, but his method involves severing the head from the spinal column and reattaching it to a donor body.
But Mathew said it would be far more effective to take the whole head and spinal cord as a single entity, and replace it in a donor body.
Scientists have already shown that it is possible to reattach nerves a few at a time, and Matthew said, with incremental improvements, and robotic help, hundreds could be reattached, wiring up the whole spinal cord to another human.
Bruce Mathew, 63, of Hull, who has carried out more than 10,000 operations, said: “Initially our intention was to just brainstorm an idea and it seemed rather silly, but then I realised, it actually isn’t. If you transplant the brain and keep the brain and spinal cord together it’s actually not impossible.
“The spinal cord is the most profound thing imaginable. You need to keep the brain connected to the spinal cord. The idea that you cut the split the spinal cord is utterly ridiculous.
“The thought of keeping it one piece, has always been totally daunting, but now with modern technology you can do most things.
“At the moment, you can connect one or two nerves, but with robotics and artificial intelligence we’ll soon be able to do 200 nerves.
“You would take off all the spinal column, so that you could drop in the whole brain and spinal cord and lumbar sacra into a new body. “Obviously it’s very difficult to take out the dura (the protective membrane of the spinal cord) intact without making a hole in it. It will take a number of advancements and incremental steps but it will probably will happen in the next 10 years.”
Matthew trained as a neurosurgeon in South Africa before moving to work for the NHS at hospitals in Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, Belfast and Hull and has been a consultant for more than 25 years.
He admits that his approach would be useless for people who had injuries of the spinal cord, but he said it could be helpful for diseases such as muscular dystrophy or for amputees, and could even one day be used to bring back people who have been cryogenically preserved.
Regulation and ethical objections are likely to stop even the initial experiments on animals in the west, but less scrupulous regimes, such as China, may soon be ready to attempt to transplant consciousness into a new body.
Prof Canavero shocked the world in 2017 when he announced he had performed a head transplant on a corpse in an 18 hour operation which successfully reconnected the spine, nerves and blood vessels of two people.
The operation was carried out by a team led by Dr Xiaoping Ren of Harbin Medical University, China, who the previous year had successfully grafted a head onto the body of a monkey and their collaboration is currently ongoing.
Although Mathew believes Canavero’s approach will not work, he thinks that his method will not only allow a consciousness to be passed to another human, but one day to a robotic body.
He admits there would be issues as to whether the head and spine could ever fully integrate with so much DNA from another person. And gut bacteria may also need to be transferred over. But he envisages that stem cell transplants could be infused into the donor body to prevent rejection, “You would take on the DNA of the actual brain and spinal cord, so rather like a bone marrow donor, and you would get rid of donor DNA and then colonise it with that from the person receiving the body,” he added.
“I mean there are huge problems, but it is possible. And you’ve got to remember you’ve got thousands of people in deep freezes, often just heads, and companies who really believe you will one day be able to reawaken them from the dead, cure them of disease, and give them new bodies. In comparison what I’m proposing is fairly conservative.”
In the novel the head transplant takes place in the theatre where Dr Christian Barnard carried out the first human heart transplant in 1967. Author Lee added: “Our story presents a medically coherent and plausible method of transplanting the head and central nervous system of our main character, onto a donor body. “Fo
r people with degenerative muscle diseases, head transplants of this kind would create the possibility of getting a new body."
The novel Chrysalis is available now.