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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Mary Shelley
Tricycle Theatre   Summer 2012

Shared Experience is the touring theatre company with a particular affinity for literary works and women's experiences, so it is almost inevitable that they would find their way to the author of Frankenstein. 

Helen Edmundson's script and Polly Teale's staging present the core of Mary Wolstonecraft Godwin's story with the company's signature clarity, depth, theatrical inventiveness and audacious and convincing insight, and also with its signature self-indulgence and excessive length. (The play runs just under three hours, and could easily have lost fifteen or twenty minutes had Edmunson not felt compelled to display all the fruits of her considerable research.) 

The daughter of notorious freethinkers, the teenage Mary Godwin ran off with the married poet to live in sin and on-and-off poverty that cut her off from family and society. 

Helen Edmundson's major (and convincing) insight is that the key figure in Mary's story was less Shelley than her father. Leading ahead-of-his-time social philosopher of his day, William Godwin influenced the thinking of both Shelley and his daughter, so that their elopement was as much a political act as a romantic one, and then surprised himself and everyone else by reacting very conventionally and self-righteously when his theories were brought into his own family. 

Edmundson finds everyone wrestling with their own conventional impulses Mary and Percy eventually marry because it simplifies his getting an inheritance and closes with the intriguing suggestion that the model for Victor Frankenstein, the intellectual unable to love the result of his thinking when it appeared before him, was William Godwin. 

Director Polly Teale keeps the story flowing, particularly effectively as designer Naomi Dawson's single set of William Godwin's study is inventively transformed into dozens of other locations while subtly making the thematic point of his overriding influence. 

A few isolated moments of non-naturalistic performance, mainly in dream sequences, are evocative without breaking the frame and reality of the story, and the characters are all allowed to grow or change as events affect them or we come to understand them more. 

Kristin Atherton makes Mary a woman of impulsive passion but also intellect, with the ability to observe herself in every situation, judge herself and learn from her reactions how to face the next challenge. 

William Chubb's Godwin is a man of firm convictions startled to discover himself acting in contradiction to them but then just as firmly committed to this new set of values, and Chubb makes us see an underlying honesty and good will in the man that keeps him from becoming an easy villain. 

Ben Lamb's Shelley is the simplest of the three, his rather soft self-indulgent nature saved from our disdain by an amiable quality that wins us over. Strong support comes from Flora Nicholson, Shannon Tarbet and especially Sadie Shimmin as Godwin's second wife, who repeatedly surprises us by rejecting the wicked-stepmother role we keep wanting to cast her in.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Mary Shelley - Shared Experience at Tricycle Theatre 2012

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