Mary Shelley

Tue 29th May – Sat 2nd June 2012


Joe Nicholson

at 23:32 on 29th May 2012



The opening night of "Mary Shelley" at the Playhouse did not go well - but this in no way reflected on the strength of the script or the ability of the actors. To the dismay of the audience, director Polly Teale announced that William Chubb, playing William Godwin, was forced to leave the tour the night before due to an unforeseen family emergency. Jonathan Oliver, well known in Oxford for his excellent performances with the Creation Theatre, volunteered to fill in at the last minute, but despite the efforts of the cast the play had to be ceased during the interval due to Fiona Nicholson (playing Fanny Godwin) being taken ill. The first half of the performance was nevertheless engaging, exciting and exceptionally polished despite the circumstances, one which truly merits a full house for the remainder of the run in Oxford.

Helen Edmundson’s script was a major part in the success of the first half of the production. Dealing with fascinating subject matter and an extraordinary literary family, the writing satisfies much of the potential that this theme carries. The writing testifies to extensive research into the output and ideas of the characters reconstructed, but brings them to life with flair and wit. Edmundson exploits the revolutionary theories of Godwin and his circle, Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe Shelley, creating powerful drama out of the conflict between social conventions and pressures that met radical ideas in the domestic life of these writers. The playwright makes us question the legitimacy of these ideas in practice, whether the audience is familiar with these thinkers or not: hers is a script which deserves great commendation.

Moreover, the humour created through the dialogue emphasises the real pity that "Mary Shelley" could not continue to its close. Shannon Tarbet as Jane Clairmont played out the comic foil to the fiery and serious Mary, keeping the audience laughing throughout, whilst Sadie Shimmin as Mrs Godwin took up her well-crafted lines with gusto, presenting a believable character whose presence added to the immediacy of the entire storyline. Oliver’s part, again, deserves huge praise, as despite a single day’s rehearsal the only indicator of his newness in the role was the script in his hand. His delivery and characterisation were otherwise at a very high standard. Indeed, the entire cast worked well together to present a convincing picture of family life fraught with difficulties, showing a polished use of the effectively decorated performance space, one which augmented the stage metaphor of the literary life, created out of bookshelves and dark wood and leather furniture. Sound and lighting were also atmospheric, with moments of reflection for Mary expressed for the most part subtly. It is, again, a shame that the second half of the play could not reveal the development of this character’s literary life.

There were, however, a few minor line slips, and at certain points characters’ references to the fact that the family was not normal seemed overbearing, a self-reflexiveness which seemed forced. This notwithstanding, the first half of Mary Shelley was remarkably professional despite various setbacks, and brought Edmundson’s accomplished and intelligent script into exciting presentation onstage. This run at the Playhouse is worth a see this week, the promising first half an encouraging sign of the dramatic resolution to come.


Madeleine Stottor

at 08:10 on 30th May 2012



Mary Shelley is a play of two halves. The first half was excellent, and I wish I could say the same of the second. Unfortunately, I can’t though, because I never saw it. Before the play began, we were informed that the role of William Godwin would be taken that evening by Jonathan Oliver, script-in-hand; and following the interval, it was announced that the play would be suspended, since one of the cast was suffering from heat exhaustion. Based on the first half, however, Shared Experience’s Mary Shelley is an exciting and engaging production, which I would very much like to see the rest of.

Helen Edmundson’s play explores Mary Shelley’s meeting and elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley, when she was just sixteen, and its consequences for her sisters, stepmother, and father, William Godwin. This is Edmundson’s sixth collaboration with Shared Experience, and the play has seen successful runs in Yorkshire and London.

It opens with a dramatic, dream-like sequence, as Mary reads of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her attempted suicide. The highly stylised quality of this sequence is slightly disconcerting, but as the first half progresses, it becomes much more engaging and effective. One thing I did not expect from Mary Shelley was humour, and yet throughout the play is witty, if sarcastic. Kristin Atherton’s Mary is feisty and convincing, and her relationship with Shelley (Ben Lamb) is believable despite its intensity and pace. The dynamics of the Godwin family are particularly well-rendered; the tenderness of Mary’s relationship with her father, her clashes with her stepmother, the differences between herself and her sisters. Considering that Jonathan Oliver had only rehearsed the part of William Godwin for a day, and performed clutching a highlighted script, his performance was very powerful and surprisingly nuanced. Flora Nicholson as Fanny Godwin is excellent, her self-repression and adherence to social convention providing a foil to Mary’s free-spirited behaviour. Lamb as Shelley slipped on a couple of lines, and I somehow expected from Shelley something more emotional, more ‘vibrant’.

The staging and lighting are perfect, making innovative use of limited equipment. A huge table centre-stage functions as a desk, a dinner table, a bed, a coach, a ship, and numerous cluttered bookshelves surround the stage edge, reflecting the centrality of writing and imagination for Mary and her family. Sometimes the use of music feels a little off, as in scenes where Jane’s inane chatter is suddenly cut short by eerie, darker notes.

From what I saw, Mary Shelley is definitely a play worth seeing. Considering the difficulties the actors were already dealing with in the first half, it really was impressive, and my only disappointment was that Mary’s story was, for us, cut short just as she began her life with Shelley.


Audience Avg.

0 votes, 0 comments

Click here for more event information

cast involved

other events on

Version 0.3.7a