FringeReview Scotland 2019
The stage is set with the monster under a cloth, sitting, ever present in a chair. Shelley emerges from the floor, some distance from her creation. It is a theme that continues throughout this performance as the closer she comes to the monster, the nearer an edge of sanity she appears to inhabit. We are taken through the narrative of the competition from her time away with her husband which included Byrons’ challenge to her and others which lead to the writing of Frankenstein; the fusion of new science and the creative that she celebrated; her upbringing as the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft; her deflowering upon her mother’s grave as she is seduced by the mind and physical manifestation of Percy Bysshe Shelley; her upbringing amongst geniuses before being sent away to Scotland to be saved from excesses; and the failure that all ended up being as she becomes a young pregnant mother whilst seeking her own place and legacy. It ends with her starting to read her masterpieces as we slunk off into the heavy October night.
The story of Mary Shelley is deep, dark and rich. Here we are concerned a little more with the working of her mind and the effect of the events that swarm around her than simply all the trinkets of her upbringing; though they play a part. It is an interesting story, but the script does not shine much on what we don’t already know. Structurally there are sufficient flashes to retain your interest and keep you in their pocket, but the majority of the flashes were the lighting effects to accompany the lightning onstage. There was clearly an attempt to bring a modern feel to the piece and the voice overs worked very well whilst some of the modern language and structure, a little less so. It was at its strongest, I felt when it kept to the Victorian Gothic, though including the teenage angst of a young person in at least one set piece was funny but, I felt that, the script could have retained the feel of the time and been even more amusing.
Catherine Gillard, who is also Co-Artistic Director of the company, plays Shelley in a performance that warms as the play progresses. I found the entrance slightly disarming as the emergence from the floor works but the surprise and discovery of things onstage thereafter is a little less than convincing. However, once we have the words and the thoughts of our heroine it truly does take off. There are set pieces that work extremely well such as that graveyard seduction, despite my own misgivings, and the opening night at the play she never agreed to whilst some of the other scenes – particularly the Scottish exile when 14 that were less successful.
The direction, under the other co-Artistic Director, Peter Clerke, was equal to the performance, slow to build but by the end once there was a stride, there was never a misstep. The understanding of the need to keep us onstage whilst exploring the dark recesses of a mind were performed well and there was more than a feeling of homage to this masterpiece and its creator, there was an appreciation.
The staging was wonderful and Ali Maclaurin’s set – all simplicity and backdrops of a literary canvass worked well – upon which the final coup de theatre was delivered with aplomb. The lighting, under Paul Froy as designer and technician Stephen Cunningham worked a treat. The soundscape that wrapped things in a bundle thanks to Richard Williams was a particularly inspired piece of work as the voice over brought some of the contemporary sounds of film versions, known to many of us as little aperitifs to the main meal onstage – the cultural legacy was where the up to date and modern edge worked best.
Overall as I walked out into the dark October night, as the temperature had dropped and I had stupidly forgot to bring a coat, the shiver as I left had less to do with temperature and much more to do with the cerebral examination of a mind that had brought us such a monster out of her own shadows; quite a success.