It’s 201 years since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, anonymously at first, when she was just 20 years old. This one-woman show, created by Glasgow-based company The Occasion, originally opened last year to mark the bicentenary and now returns to tour the UK.
Written by Stewart Ennis and directed by Peter Clerke, it’s a straightforward work. Catherine Gillard plays an ageing Shelley, remembering and reflecting on her life. Over an hour, she dives back and forward through time, recollecting her star-studded childhood, her relationship with Percy Shelley, their bohemian lifestyle and the tragedies that befell them both.
She always returns to Frankenstein, though – her inspiration, her incredulity at its popularity, and her indignation at questions over its authorship. It helps that, in the corner of Ali Maclaurin’s paper-strewn set, a hulking, canvas-covered model of the monster itself sits, stock-still save for a delightful coup de theatre at the curtain.
There are some brilliant bits – when Gillard hilariously performs Percy Shelley’s seduction of her on her own mother’s grave, and when she re-enacts the 1803 re-animation of the murderer George Forster at the hands of Italian scientist Giovanni Aldini, for example.
Gillard has a soft storytelling style and Richard Williams’ shifting sound design underscores everything evocatively. But Clerke’s production struggles with the more serious sections. It clumsily trades tongue-in-cheek Horrible History-style stuff for a genuine attempt to dissect the trauma behind the tale, and can’t quite find the right tone. It’s engaging throughout, but far from electrifying.