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Mary Shelley review at West Yorkshire Playhouse Leeds

Helen Edmundson’s new play for Shared Experience takes Mary Shelley away from the creative frenzy of the Villa Diodati and instead examines the influence her family, and in particular her troubled relationship with her father – the radical philosopher William Godwin – had on her work.

There’s a Jane Austen quality to the play’s early scenes – three sisters fizzing over the prospect of a male visitor while their parents bicker in the background – but after Mary, and her younger sister Jane, elope with Percy Bysshe Shelley the piece, perhaps inevitably, take a darker turn.

The now-familiar Shared Experience physicality is used only sparingly, though there is some potent doubling of Mary’s half-sister, Fanny, with the girls’ late mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a woman who remains a major presence in both their lives – they are fascinated by her and the idea they might resemble her, consuming her diaries and her letters. Edmundson is, however, most interested in exploring the emotional consequences of Mary’s eventual estrangement from her father, and how, through his character and beliefs, he was to help shape her creative vision.

There are times when all this starts to feel a little dry and talky and, at nearly three hours in length, Polly Teale’s production drags in places. William Chubb conveys something of the complexity and contradiction of Godwin’s character while Flora Nicholson is gently poignant as Fanny, the sister left behind. But though Kristin Atherton plays Mary with considerable fire and passion, her performance ends up getting lost amid the increasing familial tangle.

Production Information

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, March 16-April 7, then touring until July 7

Helen Edmundson
Polly Teale
Shared Experience, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Nottingham Playhouse
Cast includes
Kristin Atherton, William Chubb, Shannon Tarbet, Flora Nicholson, Sadie Shimmin, Ben Lamb
Running time
2hrs 45mins

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