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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Genesis: The Mary Shelley Play

Artists Collective Theatre & DIY Theatre Calgary

Genre: Theatre

Venue: C Cubed


Low Down

Genesis explores the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in an atmospheric and sexual tale of emotional and creative expression.


For lovers of the gothic, the events surrounding Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s creation of her Frankenstein story are familiar.  Holidaying on lake Geneva in 1816, the year without summer, with Lord Byron, her husband-to-be Percy Shelley, step-sister Claire Collinson and Byron’s companion Dr John Polidori.  It’s a set up ripe with theatrical potential.  There are storms.  There are ghost stories.  What were the conditions created in Mary’s mind that led to the creation of her fantastical tale?  In Genesis, writer Mary Humphrey Baldridge sets out to answers this question. 

Amanda Cutting’s direction creates some great atmospheric scenes, particularly when the lights dim and the cast hum in dark harmonies. Lighting are sound are used to good effect. The split scene moments where either Shelley or Mary Shelley are writing and we see in a little into the creative mind are especially compelling.  

But it is the sexual tensions and jealousies that dominate the story. Cutting does not shy away from scenes of intimacy (or perhaps sex) in the piece, although the nature of the sexual dynamics at play mean that these are one-sided.

Gemma Evans as Claire Clairmont practically throws herself at both Byron and Shelley in turn.  Tayla Kenyon as Mary Shelley becomes ever more desperate as her place in Shelley’s heart seems at risk and the men’s selfishness and laudanum-fuelled capers ramp up the emotional pressure.  It is hard to reconcile her powerlessness here with the role model of the mother she never knew, Mary Wollstonecraft; but perhaps that is the point. 

It is the men who drive this particular story.  Ellis Wells’ Lord Byron is arrogant and deeply unlikeable. Luke Harding as the usurped Pollidori seems the most (the only?) sane person there.  Ben Francis as Shelley is every bit the bard (and addict).  All look the part and are well cast.

There is a gradual building of tension, leading to the spark of Mary’s creation, although the number of comings and goings and the general level of mania sometimes detract from the mood.  The storyline and each character’s positions are well elucidated – the direction clear.  But the gothic is also about what lies under the surface.  In Genesis, both in terms of the writing and the performances, everything is pretty much out on display.

Some judicious editing might focus the action a little more on the creative and psychological questions at heart, and help to build on the atmospheric strengths of this piece.

Genesis runs at C Cubed at 5.05 pm until 26 August