Writer: Stewart Ennis
Director: Peter Clerke
Design: Ali McLaurin
Lighting: Paul Froy
Music: Richard Williams
The Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. Summer, but not any old summer. This was 1816, dubbed “the year without summer”, incessant rain, thunder and lightning, cock’s crowing at noon and orange snow covering the mountainsides. Months previously Mount Tamboro in Indonesia had erupted, spewing clouds of volcanic ash northwards, but this is the 19th Century, news travels slowly, superstition, not science still abounds. These sinister, portentous happenings lend an almost supernatural aura to events at the Villa. So, when Lord Byron challenges the gathered company to write a ghost story, it is no wonder that this special set of circumstances gave birth to both John Polidori’s The Vampyre, the tale that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary (Godwin) Shelley’s enduring masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of the novel, theatre company The Occasion take us on “an outlandish trip through the mind of one of literature’s most influential imaginations”. In doing so, they address the oft asked questions and rumours that have endured surrounding the writing of Frankenstein. How could a women, let alone an 18 year old, write this? It was really Percy Bysshe Shelley who wrote it. But this is no ordinary 18 year old. The daughter of feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin, this was a child born for greatness. A woman who, as a small child, received a tiny lectern as a present so she could join her father’s intellectual salon. Laudably, The Monster and Mary Shelley shines a light on the life of Mary. Did she write Frankenstein as a direct result of her unconventional past, or despite it? Tellingly she shouts to the monster, “you, you were the light relief”.
Stewart Ennis’ captivating script sparkles, weaving the contemporary with the classical. There’s high melodrama, horror and a huge dose of comedy. It also draws parallels between celebrity then and now, the hacks of the day following the perceived debauchery at the Villa Diodati as keenly as every move of a Kardashian. There’s also an ear-pleasing contemporary score from Richard Williams.
Catherine Gillard delivers a tour de force performance as Mary. Switching from child to teenage rebel to adult dealing with love, lust and loss. This is a well-judged piece of writing, one that will appeal to those interested in the historical events in the colourful life of Mary, and appeal to young audiences thanks to its quick, modern and witty prose. Highly recommended.
Reviewed on 25 April 2018 then touring | Image: Marc Marnie