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Year Without Summer review at Sweet Waterfront, Brighton – ‘overstuffed’

The cast of Year Without Summer at Sweet Waterfront, Brighton. The cast of Year Without Summer at Sweet Waterfront, Brighton.
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Writers and filmmakers can’t get enough of the infamous get-together at Lake Geneva in 1816 that resulted in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But while the title references the disruption of Europe’s weather that summer by a volcanic eruption, this new play by Andrew Allen fails even to spark.

Putting the poet Byron, his doctor, Polidori, Percy Shelley, Mary and her step-sister Claire Clairmont in the same room – sheltering from a scandalised British society – should signal dramatic fireworks. But Allen bogs them down with Wikipedia-style dialogue. We get neatly parcelled info dumps in place of dynamics.

It doesn’t help that Allen – also directing – positions his cast stiffly around the black-backed stage, as if permanently posing for a particularly awkward family photo. This has a deadening effect on the performances, which are generally flat or uninspired.

Learning more about the overshadowed Claire is interesting – even if, here, she’s mostly reduced to bitchy sniping with Mary – and Allen’s portrayal of Shelley as the inspiration for Polidori’s The Vampyre is a nicely satisfying fact-fiction fusion. And, in places, there’s some finely wrought writing.

But Year Without Summer, overstuffed with biography, never finds its voice. Themes of emancipation, addiction and celebrity all get thrown into the mix, only to bob aimlessly about on the surface.

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Verdict
Disappointing, by-numbers spin on the origins of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein     
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