Theatre review: The Monster And Mary Shelley, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Last week in Edinburgh was an interesting one, for fans of Mary Shelley and her mighty 1818 novel, Frankenstein. At the King’s Theatre, audiences had the chance to experience Rona Munro’s new version of the story, complete with a fierce and vengeful young Mary in a long leather coat; and meanwhile, Assembly Roxy hosted this latest touring show from Glasgow-based company The Occasion, featuring the artists formerly known as Benchtours.

The Monster and Mary Shelley
The Monster and Mary Shelley

The Monster And Mary Shelley, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ****

In The Monster And Mary Shelley, Catherine Gillard delivers a gorgeous, subtle and vibrant 65-minute solo performance as an older Mary Shelley, looking back both on her remarkable childhood as the daughter  of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and on her eight tumultuous years with the poet Percy Shelley; years during which she eloped to France with Shelley aged only 16, gave birth to four children, lost three of them in infancy, wrote and published Frankenstein as part of a summer horror-story challenge that also involved Shelley and Byron, and found herself widowed before her 25th birthday.

Stewart Ennis’s powerfully-written monologue combines mature reflection, and passages from the novel itself, with sequences written in the kind of breathless 21st century teen language that helps capture the sheer intoxicating passion and radicalism of her sexual and intellectual romance with the already-married Shelley.  And although this Mary Shelley is as clear-eyed as Rona Munro’s about Shelley’s monstrous arrogance, she also captures a fuller sense of why a woman of Mary’s brilliance found the game worth the candle; despite the mounting visceral horror that fuelled her great novel, and would eventually make her name even more famous than his. Joyce McMillan