Fantasmagoriana attempts to imagine exactly what happened on the evening that Mary Shelley supposedly first conceived Frankenstein, in a ghost story writing contest that some say took place between Lord Byron, Mary Shelley (then Godwin), Percy Shelley, John Polidori and Claire Claremont (Mary’s sister).
Scholars regularly debate whether this actually happened, but most agree that Frankenstein was written around this time, so it’s an interesting premise for a play. Sadly the writing is fairly dreadful, and the performances even worse.
The character of Byron is written absolutely terribly, with no seductiveness or enchantment or even sense of scandal about him. The other characters are equally poorly created and ill-researched. Of course it’s impossible to know exactly what these people were like, but to write such fascinating literary and historical figures as so boring and uninteresting is a very bad move. The language of the dialogue is bizarre as well, only occasionally fitting with the style of the period.
There is some early promise from Jack Oxley as Polidori, but overall the performances are grating and not at all believable. There's also a sense of pretentiousness and arrogance in the acting and the writing that’s unbearable. The whole piece is very much overacted, causing any literary in-jokes to fall flat.
There are glimpses of nice direction from Georgia Hume, but it doesn’t rescue the terrible script. Even the title is ridiculous, taken from the French title of the (originally English) book of stories the characters read aloud to begin with. If this is supposed to be subversive or clever it hasn’t worked.