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Mary Shelley (Tour – Liverpool)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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No wonder Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein aged just 18; only surprising it didn’t become a franchise. Parents as scarily redoubtable as William Godwin and Mary Wollstencraft are enough to bring Larkin’s words to mind, and this was a very troubled family. The suicide of Mary’s half sister Fanny (a moving portrayal from Flora Nicholson), only 22, haunts the end of the play.

Set in the Godwin’s cluttered Skinner Street bookstore, just because you have a vast table, such a flat surface is not necessarily ideal as a boat, quay or carriage even while helping to evoke such things. Nor was the action improved by bouts of somewhat clumsy slow motion mime. However, the atmosphere was much enhanced by the music, usually a few sad plangent notes.

For all the high-minded sentiments passionately uttered by Godwin and Shelley, and Mary herself, they still had to live in the real world, which does not take kindly to debt and scandal. William Chubb is excellent, father battling philosopher, which rather shows up Ben Lamb’s paradoxically shallow Shelley. Most of the characters possess an adolescent intensity, with the under-appreciated Mrs Godwin (Sadie Shimmin) condemned for her practicality.

And if Byron were mad, bad, etc, must be the result of his liaison with Jane Clairmont. So insufferable (and some advert for the ‘Rights of Women’), hard to tell whether this is superb or lousy acting from Shannon Tarbet. Again, comparisons are odious: she is so shrill while Kristin Atherton has a beguiling husky voice and appears wholly convincing as the clever, independent and delightful heroine.

A vividly enthralling tale, and in the telling, which gives you a very good idea of how Mary Shelley’s immortal creation came to life.

Carole Baldock


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