I feel quite confident in saying that the single most important event in the history of the Gothic is that moment in 1816, when confined to the Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva by bad weather, Lord Byron challenged his companions to each write a ghost story.
There have been a few dramatic adaptations of the event, most notably the prologue of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and perhaps most notoriously in Ken Russell’s rather splendid Gothic (1986) so when we heard that The Golden Fire Theatre Company would be reenacting the story at The London Horror Festival we had to go and take a look.
The play opens with Mary Godwin (later to be Shelley of course played by the show’s writer Becky Cooper) and her step sister Claire Clairemont (Jen Painter) excitedly packing for their trip to Switzerland like a bunch of students excited about their gap year, Clairmont is completely in awe of Lord Byron, with whom, she has already had an affair in London and his rock star status.
At the villa Byron (Aizaac Sidhu) is less than delighted with his surprise extra guest, but soon gets down to the business of drinking with his admiring crony Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the weather draws in the famous challenge is issued and we see how Mary derives inspiration from both the environment she finds herself in and draws aspects from each of her companions.
I really enjoyed Cooper’s take on this legendary event, the writing was crisp and drew some very pertinent observations from the characters of Shelley, Byron and poor foolish Clairmont that would lead to the creation of the doomed Baron Frankenstein and his creature. Sidhu is magnificent as the arrogant, domineering, but petulant poet confident in his own superior talent even though neither he nor Shelley produce anything to rival what Mary, a mere woman, creates. Sheppard’s Shelley defers to his overbearing friend, while Painter’s Clairmont initially bubbles over with puppy like enthusiasm, before having the stuffing taken out of her by Byron’s contemptuous behavior.Copper plays Mary as a confident woman asserting herself amongst the overbearing attitude of Byron and Shelley’s deference to him much as we would expect from the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft
Throughout the performance we slip into Mary’s imagination where Byron takes on the role of the Baron mirroring her words. This leads to a spectacular conclusion as Marys’s own words prophecy the impact that her creation will have upon the world.
A powerful recreation of the birth of the gothic masterpiece, meticulously researched, well written and brilliantly performed I give Making Monsters a 666/666.
Making Monsters is just one of the delights enjoyed by discerning horror fans at the London Horror Festival. For more details on what to see at the Old Red Lion Theatre leading up to Sunday 28 October visit the LHF website. Nearest tube Angel (Northern Line).