What Would Mary Shelley Think?

In November there will another representation of the Frankenstein story in cinemas with James McEvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. (Read more in this Q & A with the stars)  Since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein there have been more than 100 performances, adaptions. parodies and satires on stage and large and small screen. In 1931 Boris Karloff created the iconic image of the monster in the Universal Pictures production of Frankenstein. One of the most recent acclaimed stagings was in 2012, with the National Theatre’s Frankenstein starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating roles as the monster and the scientist. ­­

I think Mary would have enjoyed the varied performances on their merits and would not have been precious about interpretations. She certainly was very tolerant of the stage production that she saw in 1823.  After Shelley died in Italy, Mary went back to London and on August 29th saw a performance of ‘Presumption, or the Fate of Frankenstein’ at the English Opera House. It was very successful, and although Mary thought they had taken liberties with the story, she enjoyed the performance and found it amusing. As well, even 200 years ago new media exposure had benefits in reinvigorating the book sales! These are her comments to Leigh Hunt after seeing it.

“But lo and behold! I found myself famous! – Frankenstein had prodigious success as a drama and was about to be repeated for the 23rd night at the English Opera House. The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list dramatic personae came –-- by Mr T Cook: this nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good. On Friday, August 29th Jane my father William and I went to the theatre to see it. What like looked very well as F – he is at the beginning full of hope and expectation – at the end of the first Act. the stage represents a room with a staircase leading to F workshop – he goes to it and you see his light at a small window, through which a frightened of servant peeps, who runs off in terra when F exclaims “it lives! “– presently F himself rushes in horror and trepidation from the room and while still expressing his agony and terror – throws down the door of the laboratory, makes the staircase and presents his unearthly and monstrous person on stage. The story is not well managed – but Cooke played –-- ‘s part extremely well –is seeking as it were for support – he’s trying to grasp at the sounds he heard – all indeed he does was well executed. I was much amused, and it appeared to excite breathless eagerness in the audience – it was a third piece, A scanty pit filled at half price – and all stayed till it was over. They continue to play it even now”

Posted on September 8, 2015 .