Based on the work of Mary Shelley
Writer: Stewart Ennis
Director: Peter Clarke
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
For those searching for something beyond the cheap thrills or slap-dash effects of traditional horror productions, The Monster & Mary Shelley is a precise biography of Shelley, without resorting to page-by-page recitation. Enveloping her story in a less than linear narrative, we instead experience select chapters of the woman’s life; from the wager with Byron to the history with her father, and even a brief jaunt to Broughty Ferry of all places, the real horror of the piece…
Stood alone, or at least seemingly, Mary Shelley reflects on the publishing of her originally anonymous novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, revisiting the scoffs and derision of her peers at such a young woman creating a text centring on death, romance and re-birth, slowly, her mind begins to fragment. Shelley takes us on a whirlwind of the imaginative sparks which led to the creation of her nightmarish monster, who was anything but to Shelley.
Bringing life into the timeless tale, Catherine Gillard may carry a tightly composed script, but in truth, it is her conviction of the role which makes The Monster and Mary Shelley stand-out against various other adaptations. A compendium of emotional stages, Gillard swings wildly from the teenage angst of Shelley, a lampoon of the graveyard culture she had a hand in creating, to a softer, broken mother whose quest to create a creature whose return from the grave echoes her loss. The range in delivery is impressive, as humorous as the script requires, but engaging in the dramatic. All Peter Clarke’s direction requires is Gillard’s performance on a relatively simplistic set, with the occasional secret lurking beneath the pages.
Quite minimal, the narrative sells itself with Gillard’s performance, and a spattering of effects to reinforce her delivery. Paul Fory’s lighting design, in conjuncture with Richard Williams’ sound, illuminates the weather-stained page motif of the stage, a series of enveloping blank parchments of Shelley’s work, awaiting instruction. Their addition ranges from the atmospheric to an almost Hammer Horror level of groans, moans and thunder – and it is worth every over-the-top level for macabre appeal.
More a piece of storytelling than a theatrical production, there are elements of dramaturgy. Facial expressions, movement and comedic satire – The Occasion’s piece is a sumptuous blending of archaic fire-lit ghost stories, with an infusion of theatrical ability and humour. Gillard’s diction is enviable, her ability to strike each syllable into our imagination, painting such rich concoctions for our internal vision. Stewart Ennis’ script layers an abridgement of Shelley’s life on top of key-themes of her novel. It dips, only slightly, in the middle, as it sandwiches between an impressive opener and unnerving finale.
Be not a fool, however, keep a keen eye open this evening, for there is more going on upon this stage than a mere plunge into the mother of Gothic Horror’s history. As Halloween draws closer, a few things might call your perception into question as you convince yourself something just moved? Right? The Monster and Mary Shelley is personal in presentation, designed for intimate settings. It stands out as a piece of storytelling, with excellent delivery with all the gruesome mirth one would hope for. As touching as it is honest, Gillard continues Shelley’s legacy of marvellously ghoulish female storytellers.