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Mary Shelley's Secret Life Told Onstage
Last night was the opening night of Skint Production's Beautiful Monster at Salford Arts Theatre and what an opening night. From beginning to end this play took a familiar story of great authors and poets, literature and culture and turned it on its head to reveal the dark underbelly of the real lives of Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John Polidori and Lord Byron.
Karlton Parris the writer and director of Beautiful Monster and driving force behind Skint Productions takes the audience on a journey of discovery into the illness and eventual death of Mary Shelley and exposes the untold story of Mary Shelley's complex life. Parris said about the play and writing about the Romantics "I wanted to capture that sense of erotic freedom and total concept of free love" which he does faultlessly. Here is a piece of theatre consumed with the idea of finding the truth behind the ingenious mind of Mary Shelley and the birth of Frankenstein and his monster.
As an English student at university, I have studied Byron, Keats and Shelley extensively and was still shocked at the revelations this play shone light on. The freedom of love and bodies and the rage that came with it, the birth of a novel that shook not only the Gothic genre but the literature world at the time and to this day and the effect that left on Shelley herself was astounding to witness. Although the play contains some nudity I believe it is vital for the performance and not there as a mere spectacle. It was a bold and brave choice of Director Karlton Parris and of the cast members (Edward Darling - Percy Shelley, Amy Forrest - Young Mary Shelley, Jack Mcgarry - John Keats & Corin Silva - Lord Byron), a bravery that parallels that of the Romantics.
Everything about the production was there to give the audience an insight into the mind of Shelley and her emotional response to some very testing episodes in her life. The lighting, sound effects, set design and cinematographic projections each played a vital role in undoing the mind of Mary Shelley and showing the inner turmoil she was feeling when being haunted by memories and the ghosts of loved ones. Wendy Laurence James who plays Mary Shelley gave a particularly spectacular performance alongside Stevie Skinner who plays Betha Bates (the housekeeper and confidant of Shelley). These two characters share very intimate and powerful scenes together and each performer stayed true to character for the entirety of the play and brought a tear to my eye.
The same commitment to character can be said of every performer on stage as each role was not only well cast but well delivered. Even when the same actor was playing a different role you believed each character was one on their own due to the mannerisms and personality being adapted.
Another highlight for me was the strength of relationship between Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and the young Mary Shelley. The sexual chemistry on stage felt real and was played with such conviction that as an audience member you almost feel sucked into this world of copulation and charisma.
I would thoroughly recommend this play to anyone with an interest in the Gothic genre and literature in the first instance but then to anyone who enjoys theatre that makes you think. Whilst this performance was not aggressive in its pursuit of the audience member and breaking the fourth wall, it was indeed an aggressive play in its pursuit to involve the audience mentally and alter their perception of the Romantics as it certainly did for me.
If you think you know the story of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley, I assure you, you don't.