Genesis: The Mary Shelley Play

The Artists Collective Theatre consider what could prompt an eighteen year old girl to create one of the most lauded, feared, impressive and appalling tales of the overpowering need for love, life and recognition in the canon.

The cast give an energetic and committed performance

Well, the teenager in question is of course, no blushing violet, but the daughter of writers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. She has reputedly lost her virginity on her mother’s gravestone and eloped with her married lover, the romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. By the time that the events of the play unfold, she has already given birth to two children, one of whom died after only a few days. She is, of course, renowned author Mary Shelley.

In 1816, Mary, Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, serial shagger Lord Byron and his personal physician Doctor Polidori holiday together on the shores of Lake Geneva. The weather is hot and angry, the atmosphere febrile, and the assembled company silly and self-obsessed.

It is a seductive story, and one which has captivated literary types down the years. The writing packs in a lot of detail and tries hard to remain true to what is known of that famous vacation.

The cast have a good stab at creating the sense of attractive, affluent people killing time by getting off their respective swedes with noxious substances, and this is no easy feat given how very unpleasant and shallow we know the characters to be. Ben Francis wanders around as a wild-eyed Shelley and Ellis J Wells is a loud and commanding Byron, but they cast little light on what might tempt anyone sane to want to spend time in their company: no matter how delightful the poetry.

Tayla Kenyon carries the play as Mary, a slip of a thing seemingly utterly out of her depth amongst the debauchery she is forced to spend her time with, and yet with a will of steel that will eventually outlive the peacocks she is resigned to observing. It would perhaps have been useful to look into her motherhood a little more and to consider how losing a child had played into the themes of creation in the eventual novel, rather than seeing her as an adjunct to the whims of two men. And whilst appreciating that women were something of an undervalued commodity in the nineteenth century, I would have liked to see the female characters as offering more to the world than a bare bum and the teary-eyed victim of a Gothic nightmare.

That said, the cast give an energetic and committed performance, and this is an interesting enough way to pass some Fringe time and rack up some key pub quiz knowledge.

Reviews by Rebecca Vines

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The Blurb

Lake Geneva, early summer, 1816. Genesis takes place in the living room of Diodati, Lord Byron’s villa, and the bedroom of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley's villa. It stunningly portrays the nights of intrigue and titillation that inspired Mary Shelley to produce Frankenstein, exploring social stigmas that maintain a chokehold over human desires, even amongst the libertine upper classes. Genesis has a dark intensity that builds to a hair-raising finale and has received critical acclaim across Canada. The Edinburgh Fringe is its UK debut.

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