BooksDramaFeaturedReviewSouth East

The Last – The Lantern Theatre, Brighton

Reviewer: Lela Tredwell

Writer: Mary Shelley
Adapted by: Sam Chittenden
Director: Janette Eddisford

From the writer who won the best new play at the Brighton Fringe Awards 2019 and Outstanding Theatre Award at Brighton Fringe 2021.

A sublime, inspiring piece of theatre, this extraordinary adaptation by Sam Chittenden couldn’t be more relevant. Back in the 1820s, Mary Shelley imagined a 21st Century blighted by deadly plague. In this adaptation of her novel The Last Man, we see how the biographical bleeds into fiction.

As the audience enters, Shelley (Catie Ridewood) lies woefully upon the floor, destroyed by the personal loss of her husband and three of her children. In desperation, she conjures up characters based on real life friends and family: Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary’s sisters Fanny Goodwin and Claire Claremont. Fittingly, Mary assigns herself the lead role, for she is the last. She decides to make herself a man in the hope of avoiding, as she remarks, the feelings associated with being female. However, regardless of this decision, Mary Shelley’s own feelings regularly break through the narrative, along with the desire she feels towards her protagonist’s closest friend.

From very early on in this production there’s the distinct feeling we are experiencing the very best of theatre. Everything has been meticulously considered. Sound and lighting all work flawlessly to create just the right atmosphere for any given moment. The set is exquisite and props are used fittingly to illustrate the story. A chess set is poignantly called upon to aid us in keeping track of the characters on their journey through desolated Europe. We witness the ravages of the end of human days up close through the pleasure of Mary Shelley’s powerful prose.

Catie Ridewood gives an stunning performance as Shelley and her protagonist. She also beautifully brings to life numerous other characters along the way, including a zealot ‘false prophet’ and a political leader who could well be mistaken for Boris Johnson. There are knowing nods to political parties, actual parties, and to events from the pandemic of 2020. This play has so very much to say. The spectacular one woman show flings open a door to the past and hops back and forth over the threshold. It reminds us plague is cyclical and a thing that binds humans throughout history. It reminds us how we live and what we live for. It reminds us what theatre can do. It is a superb show and must be seen.

Reviewed on the 20th May 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Sublime theatre

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