Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Alexander Wright, based on the novel by Mary Shelley
The Flanagan Collective in association with York Theatre Royal
Around York city centre

Holly Beasley-Garrigan Credit: Ed Sunman
Veronica Hare Credit: Ed Sunman

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) has been firing the public imagination for nearly two centuries, inspiring countless adaptations on stage and screen.

Such is our (over)familiarity with this macabre story that writers have sought to shed new light on the original text by approaching it from a variety of different angles. In 2015, for example, there was the film Victor Frankenstein, which depicts the ascent of the eponymous scientist (James McAvoy) from the perspective of his formerly disfigured assistant, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe).

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writer and director Alexander Wright combines a dramatization of this classic Gothic novel with an exploration of its unusual origins. One rainy evening in 1816, whilst summering near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Lord Byron proposed that each of his guests (Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and John William Polidori) should try to write a ghost story. Shelley struggled at first to think of a suitable tale, until one night she had a nightmare about a young student who played God by creating a grotesque human in a scientific experiment. Thus the seeds of Frankenstein were sown.

Yorkshire-based theatre company The Flanagan Collective believes in embracing less traditional models of theatre-making. Last year, for example, they staged an excellent immersive version of The Great Gatsby in the Fleeting Arms pub in York. In this two-hander, the audience meets at the York Theatre Royal before being led around several nearby locations in the city centre, including the East Front of the York Minster and the courtyard of the Grays Court Hotel.

A piece like this depends hugely on the skills of its actors, and Veronica Hare and Holly Beasley-Garrigan both give engaging and spirited performances. In the roles of Mary Shelley and Victor Frankensein, Hare deftly conveys the idea of being overwhelmed by one’s own creation. Beasley-Garrigan captures Percy Bysshe Shelley’s restless intellect and makes the creature a suitably pathetic and tragic figure. Their depiction of a marriage between artists is often touching. Furthermore, both performers rise to the practical challenges of the piece by ensuring that they are heard over any competing noises and making a concerted effort to be seen by all the members of the audience.

There are moments when the production falters slightly. Although the chosen locations are suitably atmospheric, there are times when it is difficult to see what is going on due to limited light. Although Alexander Wright does a fine job of distilling both Shelley's early life and novel into a series of key moments, there are times when the jumps between fact and fiction feel somewhat jarring. I also think that the production could have been more sinister—after all, Frankenstein is one of the greatest horror novels ever written.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a well-acted and absorbing piece of storytelling that manages to illuminate how this classic novel came into being and the ways in which it mirrors the author's own life.

Reviewer: James Ballands