(The review below, written for the Evening Chronicle, can also be read here.)
Known as the author of the early nineteenth-century novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley lived a life of anxiety and pursuit that would eventually lead her to write one of the most complex novels of all time. With Mary Shelley, a play new to 2012, the Northern Stage brings her tale to life.
When sixteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin falls in love with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she is delighted to find that he is equally fond of her. However, when Mary’s father, William Godwin, disapproves of their relationship, Mary is heartbroken. Torn between doing right by her father and listening to her heart, drastic action is taken. Is Mary to live a life her mother, radical writer Mary Wollstonecraft, would have approved of?
I cannot think of another time when I have seen a play that has unfolded so captivatingly, the progression through the narrative allowing us to understand why Mary desired to imitate the love she craved from her father by building a family with Percy Shelley. The pace of the play cannot be faulted.
It’s widely understood that the writing of Frankenstein came about after the Shelleys spent time with Lord Byron at Villa Diodati in Switzerland, in 1816. There was a slight chronological alteration with this significant moment in the play, changing the setting and timeframe in which Mary’s harrowing nightmare occurred. However, the story does otherwise display accuracy, if not for a few minor tweaks, to allow it to flow more easily as an art form.
Each cast member brought their characters to life. Credit is due all round, however two specific actors stand out: Kristin Atherton portrayed Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin exactly as I feel she should be – ambitious and adventurous, with passion in her core – while Shannon Tarbet provided an excitingly energetic Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont, with character traits that match those commonly known to have been displayed by Clairmont herself. Weather is at the forefront of a lot of the emotion projected. As snow falls, you can almost guarantee that tears will too. The use of lighting to create darker stormy scenes, the stage often coated in a layer of Gothic-like mist, heightens the Romantic sensations that are conjured. With the occasional comical line weaved into the script, penned by Helen Edmundson, the play is balanced perfectly.
Anticipating the possession of your soul for the evening, the play will capture your attention in ways barely imaginable. With its talented cast, a creative use of lighting, and the capabilities of reducing you to tears, Mary Shelley reaches into the very heart of one of the greatest stories ever conceived.