Artists Collective Theatre from Canada bring to life the events that led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. Published in 1818, when Mary was only 20, Frankenstein remains a seminal work in gothic horror. The play covers the events leading up to Mary’s determination to put her thoughts on paper.
The scene is set in Lord Byron’s villa in Geneva, where Mary and her lover Shelley are on holiday. They are with Dr Pollidori and Claire Clairmont. The weather is dark and brooding, and there is a thunderstorm brewing. Mary’s lover, Percy B. Shelley, the famous Romantic poet, is about to organise a seance. What follows is a series of events that culminate in Mary, Shelley and Byron deciding to write horror stories to compete with one another. Mary’s abilities and ideas are looked down upon as she is a woman. It is understood that she is somehow, therefore, incapable of winning.
The actors do a good job of portraying the various characters. Mary is intelligent, full of spark, but at the same time vulnerable. Byron is loud, flamboyant and conceited, which is in keeping with his reputation at the time. In particular, Shelley, who has much of the lines alongside Byron, does a great job at portraying a neurotic and unnerved poet. He half-exists in the world of ghosts and spirits and ‘keenly feels’ their presence. It is strange that in a play about Mary, she does not have a lot of air time, which drives the point of sexism at the time home.
The writing is slow to start off with and takes about a quarter of the show to set out context and relationships. This feels like a drag in the beginning. Much of the action, especially at a climax towards the end, takes place on the floor, which this particular Fringe venue does not lend well to. The audience is trying to lean over and in, and only those in the front seats are afforded a clear view. The actor playing Clairemont delivers a performance slightly halting as if still not used to the script.
But aside from that, the story is carried through on the back of a very interesting premise. The shock value of the script is just right and it adds the perfect dose of mystery and intrigue. An enjoyable watch at a central location.