Receiving its premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Mary Shelley represents another triumph for the Leeds theatre, along with co-producers, Shared Experience and the Nottingham Playhouse.
Written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Polly Teale, Mary Shelley tells the story of the author who, at 19, created the classic novel, Frankenstein. The play focuses on her relationships with her philosopher father, two sisters and poet Percy Shelley, the married man with whom she eloped.
Bringing the story to life is a wonderful ensemble cast. At the centre is Kristin Atherton as Mary; a creative and passionate young woman who remained captivated by the mystique of her deceased mother, feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Equally impressive is William Chubb as Mary’s ideologically radical, but politically conservative father, Mr Godwin. It is in their scenes together that the play really comes alive.
Rounding out the cast, Ben Lamb is suitably “vibrant” as Shelley, while Sadie Shimmin adds humour and depth as Mary’s stepmother. As the author’s sisters, Flora Nicholson brings a quiet dignity to the role of Fanny, although Shannon Tarbet’s Jane does come a little close to crossing the line into ‘annoying brat’ territory.
Special mention should also go to the technicians who do a great job in bringing early nineteenth century London to life on the Playhouse stage. Chris Davey’s lighting and Drew Baumohl’s sound work especially well to complement Naomi Dawson’s versatile stage design that emphasises the play’s literary theme.
On the negative side, the play does sag a little in places through its nearly three hour running time (including interval), and some of the dream sequences are a little overwrought. But overall, this is a powerfully told story that will no doubt enjoy a successful run in Leeds, and beyond.