STUDENTS at Arts University Bournemouth have the unique opportunity to produce plays about Mary Shelley and her famous literary community in the building where she and her son Percy lived from 1851.
Their autumn series, Shelley at the Shelley, opened with two plays about Mary – Liz Lochhead’s Blood and Ice and Helen Edmundson’s Mary Shelley, and will continue with a devised piece, Freakenstein, from 15th to 17th November, and CTRL C at St Peter’s Church, site of the Shelley family tomb, from 6th to 8th December.
Blood and Ice, directed by Luke Kernaghan, is set in flashback as the widowed Mary, trying to make a life for herself and her son after the death of her beloved husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, looks back at the critical days in Geneva when Lord Byron was a neighbour. He issued a joking challenge for the three writers, Mary, Percy and himself, to write the most gruesome story. Out of Mary’s imagination came Frankenstein, and now he haunts her sleeping and waking dreams.
It’s a brilliantly clever play, full of humour, passion and intellectual rigour and offering challenging and hugely rewarding roles for its actors.
The seven students, making their first “public” appearances since joining the AUB performing arts course, promise an exciting future. There is an outstandingly charismatic performance from Samuel Terry as Shelley, with Micheal Dresden’s Byron bringing the necessary dangerous charm. Lauren Martin is the daffy and besotted Claire, with Courtney Henson and Ellie Spencer-Harty as Mary in later life and as a young bride, Monika Andonova as the unfortunate maid, and always in the background, a menacing Storm Gorst as the monstrous Frankenstein.
Helen Watt’s production of Mary Shelley, another seven-hander, takes Mary’s story from 16-year-old daughter of political philosopher William Goldwin through her estrangement from her family to her eventual marriage to the recently widowed Shelley.
Both plays give insights into the lives of the protagonists, played out against the climate of the French Revolution and the general hypocrisy and patriarchalism of Victorian England.
Shaun Cookson was a ruefully thoughtful Goodwin, with Hazel Marla funny as the sharp-witted stepmother, Mrs Goodwin, Imogen Segrave as the spirited Mary, Brian Bususu as Shelley, Elizabeth Lavender-Powell as the tortured and neglected Fanny, Abbi Lita as Jane (who changed her name to Claire) and Susanna Greenow as Harriet Shelley.
Both casts coped well with the acoustic difficulties of the Shelley Theatre – please let’s have some crowd funding to improve the audibility for those of the audience at the back of the atmospheric theatre.