Review: Mary Shelley

Kristin Atherton as Mary and Ben Lamb as Percy Shelley.  Photo: Robert Day
Kristin Atherton as Mary and Ben Lamb as Percy Shelley. Photo: Robert Day
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West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

IT’S astonishing to think that Mary Shelley wrote such a complex and radical novel as Frankenstein when she was still a teenager. But by the time you’ve finished watching Helen Edmundson’s gripping play you get an inkling of the real life turmoil that underpins one of the 19th century’s greatest books.

Mary has often been overshadowed by her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, who, along with Lord Byron, scandalised Georgian society with their outrageous antics and radicalism. But Edmundson’s play puts her story centre stage.

And what a story. Her mother was the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died just days after Mary was born, and her father was the radical philosopher William Godwin.

The play charts Mary’s return home to London from a trip to Scotland, where her troubled family’s simmering emotions are about to reach boiling point with the arrival of Shelley.

It is a passionate, and at times tragic, tale of dysfunctional family relationships and the price we sometimes pay for having the courage of our convictions.

The simple staging works a treat as does the smart, well-paced direction which stokes up the tension when it needs to and prevents the story from lagging.

The performances, too, are all top notch, especially (and most crucially) Kristin Atherton in the title role.

At two-and-a-half hours long this isn’t a short play, but it’s testament to the quality of the script and the performances that it flies by.

Hugely impressive.