Photographer: Robert Day

L.S. Media Rating *****

Cast: Kristen Atherton, William Chubb, Ben Lamb, Flora Nicholson, Sadie Shimmin, Shannon Tarbet.

To take the life of one of Britain’s foremost radical and supreme female writers of the last 200 years and present it as a dramatic and inspiring piece of theatre takes incredible fortitude, guile, a cast of infinite quality and a writer whose work is undoubtedly amongst the best in the country right now.

In Helen Edmundson’s Mary Shelley at the Liverpool Playhouse, the audience was treated rather spectacularly to all of the above and then some.

It could have gone wildly and distressingly wrong for Mary Shelley who was no ordinary female writer. Her life and her work are engrained into the psyche of so many of her fans that one wrong moment in the play, any type of over exaggerated sentiment between the young author, her intellectual father and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley would have been noticed and dealt with accordingly. However Helen Edmundson, whose production of Swallows and Amazons, won her more fans in a single night that most writers get in a year, didn’t tip-toe round the edges of Mary Shelley’s incredibly passionate and sometimes equally destructive life.

This was the story of the young woman whose stamp on English literature is heavily defined at such a young age with the creation of a patchwork monster, made of a composite of many men, many lives and the man who built him, Dr. Frankenstein. Her first meetings with arguably the best poet of his age in Percy Bysshe Shelley and how this meeting of minds, of intellectual equals damned almost everything they touched. This was the type of story that was perfectly and utterly made for the Playhouse Theatre. The Gothic gloom and the bookcase upon bookcase of learning reflecting the life and state of mind of the young woman, captured with incredible intensity by the force of nature of Kristen Atherton.

The triangle between father, poet and gothic genius was completed by a resounding performance by William Chubb as the philosopher William Godwin and a triumph of romanticism and ever roving eye by Ben lamb as Shelley. These three actors, when on stage gave the gravitas needed to convey the hatred, the desire and the upmost heart-wrenching moments of the early life of Mary Shelley.

Nights out at the theatre were made for such performances. A masterpiece of theatre writing!

Ian D. Hall