Mary Shelley
imitating the dog & Leeds Playhouse
The Lowry, Salford

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Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia Credit: Ed Waring
Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia Credit: Ed Waring
Nedum Okonyia and Georgia-Mae Myers Credit: Ed Waring
Nedum Okonyia and Georgia-Mae Myers Credit: Ed Waring
Nedum Okonyia and Georgia-Mae Myers Credit: Ed Waring

The set design by Hayley Grindle of a bedroom in a modern flat, which the audience see as they enter, may not seem an obvious setting for Shelley's "Modern Prometheus", although the spaghetti of cables filling half the height of the stage does indicate another technology-rich imitating the dog production. The young couple (Georgia-Mae Myers and Nedum Okonyia) dressed comfortably for lounging at home, through whom the story is told, also don't fit any preconceptions, but neither is this one of the comic, small-cast recreations of classic novels that currently proliferate.

This production is telling two stories. Shelley's Gothic / Romantic, anti-Enlightenment tale of a scientist who took his search for knowledge too far begins as a Book of the Week on the radio (voiced by Olwen May); that narrator's voice returns occasionally to link scenes. At the same time, a pregnancy test changes hands between the young couple to set off the story of how they struggle with the idea of bringing a child into their lives, and into the current world.

The same actors transform to tell the story as related by Victor Frankenstein to his rescuer in the North Pole, where he has been pursuing his Creature. This fractured narrative is mostly from where he gives life to the Creature to where his creation gets him to make a companion for him, and then takes his revenge. Back in the present, the man isn't sure about becoming a father but seems to warm to the idea, whereas the woman moves in the opposite direction, becoming terrified that she won't be able to love this creature growing inside her.

What links them is, of course, the creation of new life, bringing it into a world where it may not fit. The two stories do touch more than just thematically, however, through the person they refer to as "Shouty Man" whom they observe through their window, whose fate converges, interestingly, with that of Victor Frankenstein.

The modern-day story is a bit thin and stretched out, whereas Shelley's richly varied narrative is represented by short excerpts that sometimes capture a mood more than they relate a clearly defined story. Someone sat behind me asked her companion whether the parties of schoolchildren would find value in such a radical reworking if they are studying the novel; I believe they would as long as they read the novel as well, as there is a great deal for them to discuss, but if they watch this instead of reading the book, they may find it difficult to follow the original story.

The company's signature use of video is woven into the design (video designer Davi Callanan, with Andrew Crofts's lighting integrating well with it) depicting 'real' elements such as the weather through the windows and more abstract symbols from the stories, but there are no live camera feeds this time; the attention is focused very much on the two performers rather than the technology. Composer James Hamilton's score, ever-present under the narrative, ranges from subtly atmospheric to dramatic operatic voices to the relentless tension of a Hans Zimmer film score, with the 'zap' of electricity a frequent sound effect and symbol of the spark of life. Just occasionally, this threatened to drown out the voices.

The most striking link between the naturalism of the modern-day story and the symbolic retelling of the novel is Casper Dillen's very physical and often intimate choreography, executed very well by the two young actors, which links together the two stories and the various styles of their telling.

Although the storytelling isn't always clear, this technically challenging production is slickly assembled, pacily directed and always watchable, with an intriguing take on a well-known story that is worth seeing, whether or not you are studying it at school.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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