by Helen Edmundson.
Theatre Royal Winchester Jewry Street SO23 8SB 6-9 June.
7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01962 840440.
Tricycle Theatre 12 Jun-7 July 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm except 14 June 7pm Mat Wed 2pm Sat 3pm.
TICKETS: 020 7328 1000.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 June at Oxford Playhouse.
High class theatre and acting, going into its story with great detail.
In recent years Shared Experience has cornered the stage market in plays about 19th-century women novelists and adaptations of their novels. Especially when written by Helen Edmundson or Polly Teale; one of whom has written Mary Shelley, while the other directs it.
The proportions are generous, the stagecraft and acting marvellous. Yet a less-involved voice might have encouraged more shaping to the story of Mary in 1814-1816 without losing, and perhaps reinforcing, Mary’s mind and resourcefulness. The daughter of celebrated intellectual parents, her mother Mary Wolstonecroft died when Mary was under one year old. Her father, William Godwin, played with stone-pillar rectitude by William Chubb, wrote Political Justice, on progressive principles which allowed him to accept any money offered him.
This was useful; he was a lousy businessman whose children’s bookshop, established opposite the gallows, led to bankruptcy. As the intellectuals talk, William’s second wife, worrying about practicalities, and constantly left carrying the tea-tray, keeps things going. Played by Sadie Shimmin, her mild outbursts and useful activity make her seem worth most of the others together.
Mary leaves her family for romantic poet Percy Shelley, also no good at getting through life. The most self-obsessed (and nowadays most ignored) of the leading romantic poets, Shelley no sooner rents a place in France than he’s declaring poverty means they must return to England.
Ben Lamb shows Shelley’s somewhat charismatic surface glitter, while Shannon Tarbet and Flora Nicholson calibrate the lighter and darker sides of a woman’s life in culturally and politically turbulent times.
But it’s the quality of Kristin Atherton’s deeply thoughtful, concerned and intelligently passionate Mary that focuses the evening. No wonder the novel she finally starts writing is Frankenstein, about a creature forced to exist in a world set against it.
The book-stacks of Naomi Dawson’s design, initially closely crowded, move apart in the second act as the Godwin family splits, while Chris Davey’s lighting creates cold, comfortless moods and the drowning motif is established from the start in Keith Coulson’s score, drew Baumohl’s soundscape, and Liz Ranken’s movement, all aid Teale’s direction, which remains scrupulous and tight-focused throughout.
Mary: Kristin Atherton.
Fanny: Flora Nicholson.
Mrs Godwin: Sadie Shimmin.
Jane: Shannon Tarbet.
William Godwin: William Chubb.
Percy Shelley: Ben Lamb.
Director: Polly Teale.
Designer: Naomi Dawson.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Drew Baumohl.
Composer: Keith Coulson.
Movement: Liz Ranken.