'Mary Shelley' review or 'An oh so earnest trip to the theatre.'

'Mary Shelley', Helen Edmundson
Tricycle Theatre, Thursday 14th June 2012
Written for The Ham & High

Mary Shelley: not nearly as exciting as this picture suggests

You probably know who wrote 'Frankenstein'. But did you know that Mary Shelley penned this classic novel when she was just 18 and eloped with Percy Shelley, aged 16? And what about her illustrious, literary heritage? Shelley's father was the esteemed political philosopher, William Godwin and her mother, the fiercely opinionated writer, Mary Wollstonecraft. For these revelations alone, Helen Edmunson's play, 'Mary Shelley' is a worthwhile and fascinating affair.

The play revolves around Mary's family, who live in uncomfortably close quarters above their failing children's bookshop. William Godwin (William Chubb) reminds one of a steelier Mr Bennett, lost in his books but deeply fond of his daughters. In fact, the parallels with Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' are uncanny. Godwin's new wife, Mrs Godwin (Sadie Shimmin) is a harder Mrs Bennett and her flighty daughter, Fanny (Flora Nicholson), an even sillier Lydia. The passionate, earnest Mary Shelley (Kristin Atherton) is a dead ringer for Elizabeth Bennett and Percy Shelley (Ben Lamb) is a lot like Darcy, only pushed to the extremes.

They're rich, complicated souls and Edmunson depicts them skilfully, teasing out some nicely  nuanced relationships. Mary and Percy Shelley develop a fierce, ugly relationship and Mary's bond with her father is strong but splintered. Edmunson is careful not to romanticise these roles: Percy is charming but cruel, Mary is horrifically self-absorbed and the petulant young Fanny is downright excruciating.

Yet, despite these intriguing relationships, the production does drag a little. Polly Teale, of 'Shared Experience', is a fine and experienced director but her visual flourishes (which used to seem so fresh) feel a touch tired. The abstract, slow mo dancing starts to feel predictable and the production rarely surprises. Even the snow, which accompanies Shelley's heartbreak, falls in tidy, regular rhythms.


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