Making Monsters

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most well known stories in the English canon. Even those who have never read the book or seen one of the several movies based on the story know of it. The novel is psychologically complex, grippingly horrific, and essentially modern. It’s even more remarkable that it was written by a woman in a time when women were not expected to be literate.

Despite the play’s many good elements, they serve only as dressing for a boarded-up window.

Making Monsters explores the creation of this landmark text, but fails to successfully connect it to a broader literary or feminist context. If you’re an English lit nerd like me, you already know that Frankenstein was conceived in Geneva, when Mary Shelley (then Godwin) visited the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron along with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, another great Romantic. The three writers, along with Claire Clairmont (ex-lover of Byron) challenge each other to a storytelling contest. This is the scene Making Monsters sets itself.

The set, though cluttered, is oddly Romantic in that respect, and various items are used to great effect throughout the show. Among the debris, the four actors play their parts. All four are clearly talented but, somewhat awkwardly, it’s the men who stand out. Byron and Shelley are such over-the-top characters to begin with, that actors Matt Sheppard and Aizaac Sidhu succeed simply by committing to being big. Sheppard, in particular, looks and sounds perfect as Percy Shelley. Compared to that, the more naturalistically written Mary (Becky Cooper) struggles to find the limelight.

This problem is mirrored in the development of the plot. Mary slowly forms the building blocks of her story, spurred on by dismissive remarks by Byron. Meanwhile, only a couple of references to Mary’s mother, Mary Woolstonecraft, the writer of A Vindication on the Rights of Woman, manage to connect this to any broader issue or struggle.

The Mary of the play doesn’t even figure out the interesting parts of Frankenstein; she only ever gets as far as “A man called Victor attempts to reverse death by stitching together body parts and adding electricity.” No being hunted by one’s own mistake or musing on where the bounds of scientific endeavour should lie. Making Monsters’ Mary does not tell a very good story.

Even with the interesting setup and some cool characters, Making Monsters doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t successfully chart the creation of a historically important novel. It doesn’t successfully represent one of the greatest triumphs of women over oppressive patriarchy. It doesn’t successfully give its plot significant stakes. Despite the play’s many good elements, they serve only as dressing for a boarded-up window.

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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The Blurb

Geneva, 1816. Dared to write a terrifying ghost story, Mary Shelley delves into the secrets of surgery, science and life itself to come up with an original monster. On a mad artistic tour with her lover, her step-sister and new friend Lord Byron, she begins writing a ghost story that will 'curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart'. Comedic and chilling ensemble theatre at its very best.