Jonathan Lovett tells us about a fascinating new play about Mary Shelley landing at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Thursday, 12th October, as part of a UK tour
Conception: Mary Shelley – the Making of a Monster celebrates the incredible life of Mary Shelley on the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Frankenstein to bear her name.
This latest production by feminist theatre company CLAIR/OSCUR focuses on the return of Mary to Lake Geneva, the birthplace of her most famous novel. Haunted by the ghosts of her husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and others from that infamous ‘year without a summer’ she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery resulting in a brutal confrontation with the very creation that made her name.
Unlike Frankenstein the life of Mary Shelley is not so well known… and yet it reads like the plot of one of her tragic, Gothic novels. Suffering three infant deaths and one miscarriage that almost killed her she then lost the love of her life, Percy, drowned in a yachting accident, in her early 20s.
Deserted by friends and with little money or means to support her one surviving son, she was known as the widow of Percy and some even questioned whether he was the author of Frankenstein. And yet, in the face of a misogynistic, critical society, this single mother went on to write a further eight novels, more than 50 short stories and essays and even, in a typically selfless act, brought together her husband’s writings in a complete works edition that made Percy’s name.
The play’s writer and star Deborah Clair says: “In Mary Shelley’s day society dictated the need for women to be wives. If not, the other paths were decidedly perilous: spinster, divorced, widow, harlot… corpse,” said “Mary was completely off-grid with her choices – elopement, travel, children out of wedlock, a thinker and writer. Her life straddled two eras – Romantic and Victorian – and the latter really didn’t know what to do with her!”
As well as playing the role of Mary, Deborah is director of CLAIR/OBSCUR, a female led-theatre company dedicated to placing inspiring women of the past centre-stage. Conception is directed by Lucy Speed who starred in EastEnders and The Bill and is currently playing Stella in The Archers.
Conception is being performed at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead on Thursday, 12th October at 8pm as part of a national tour. For ticket details visit Conception: Mary Shelley – The Making of a Monster : Norden Farm Centre for the Arts.