This Play, written by Liz Lochhead, is the second of three Productions by the 3rd Year Drama Students of the Arts University, at the small and atmospheric Shelley Theatre which is of course a fitting Venue for this trio of Productions about the Shelley Family and their literary and domestic lives and particularly, Marys’ (in)famous monstrous character, Frankenstein. As The Directors’ Notes informed us, the Play explores Mary’s life around the time in 1816 when she was living in Geneva with the already-married Percy Bysshe Shelley and also with her half-sister Claire and the infamous Lord Byron. But we see it from the perspectives of a now seemingly lonely and alone Mary in her later years reflecting back on those times, recounting in her mind those happenings. Still seemingly ‘haunted’ by her own Creation, though it isn’t clear to us – nor to her, it seems – why she created the Creature.
At the hub of the play is her reminiscence of the infamous house party on the shores of Lake Geneva attended by Shelley and herself, Claire and Lord Byron. They take part in a challenge to see who can write the most horrifying story. Her own life experiences seem intertwined with the story that develops into Frankenstein – her own upbringing in a strict and financially challenged family by her father and stepmother after her own Mother died in Childbirth, her relationship with her ‘clingy’ half-sister, who is desperate to live a more exciting and scandalous life, and the subsequent death of her own children at very young ages. Her relationship with Shelley began when she was only 16, and scandal thus was to be weighed as a part of her life thereafter, interwoven with tragedy.
Just how her life experience contributed to the creation of her monster in her mind, and onto the page, is never particularly clear and indeed the monster is in her mind repeatedly asking that question of her itself.
It says much for the AUB Course that established Directors of the experience of Luke Kernaghan work with the Students on such challenging Productions and this Cast have reaped the benefits, giving us a consistent level of performance in bringing these characters to life on the Stage. Courtney Henson as the widowed Mary Shelley, reflecting back on her life gave a calm mature performance befitting the character well, dealing only in a narrative, no interaction on stage, only with us; still troubled by sleepless nights, even nightmares as her creature still won’t let her find peace and rest.
Ellie Spencer-Harty as the Mary of the 1816 era gave us an accomplished performance of an 18 year old leading a lifestyle viewed a scandalous, remaining calm despite her companions being outlandish of that time. Her perhaps over-sensitive delivery in some one-to-one situations meant that she was at times hard to hear clearly but that can be easily remedied.
Lauren Martin as her half-sister Claire gave us an attractive, excitable, giddy and understandably foolish teenager sucked into the high-life and determined to grab it with both hands. Samuel Terry as Shelley painted an interesting character, his poetry and his desire to change things being his driving force whilst his sense of morality to do the right thing for his estranged wife and children giving us a man that the young Mary would indeed have found so attractive. Michael Dresden’s strong characterisation as the outrageous and rather less moral Lord Byron I couldn’t help but like and warm to, even knowing that may not be wise! Much of this Play revolves around these four and is dialogue-driven with little demand for physical acting and movement; they all kept me involved and engrossed with convincing work despite the script becoming a bit ‘stodgy’ at times.
Monika Andonava as the put-upon, taken-for-granted maid Elise took her opportunities well to make the most of the comic moments that came her way, making her feelings known with some pronounced flouncing! Storm Gorst as The Creature – so continuously in Marys’ mind – made several brief appearances with the aid of some deft lighting and I remained conscious of his ‘presence’.
Great credit to all the AUB Students who also contributed to the Production, particularly the Costume Makers / tailors, Hair and Make-Up artists. It takes a Team to make such Productions work and I hope that this has been a valuable experience and opportunity for all of that Team.