Author of Frankenstein inspires moving production
We caught up with award-winning playwright Helen Edmundson, to find out more about her play Mary Shelley, which is on now until 5 May at Nottingham Playhouse.
What first drew you to Mary Shelley and her story?
I had read Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ as a teenager and the story had really captured my imagination. Coming back to it, I realised it is much much more than a horror story or a thriller – it is a novel of ideas, and I found myself wanting to discover how a girl of eighteen had managed to write something so philosophically challenging and profound.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein aged just 18 – what do you think was her inspiration for the story?
There were so many important influences on Mary around the time she was writing Frankenstein, but it seemed to me that her father, William Godwin, was probably the greatest influence. He was a celebrated Political Philosopher – though it was not only his philosophies which effected and informed her thinking, it was also her personal relationship with him. I wanted to put this strained and revealing relationship at the centre of the play.
Could you tell us more about the links between Mary Shelley and Nottinghamshire’s notorious poet Lord Byron?
Lord Byron was probably the most notorious man in England when Mary and her new love, Shelley, were beginning their literary lives. The couple first met him through Mary’s step-sister, Jane, who pursued Byron and quickly entered into a liaison with him. Mary, Shelley and Jane, then followed Byron to Italy, and took a villa close to his infamous “Villa Diodati”. The two poets struck up a strong and challenging friendship, and it was after an evening trying to frighten each other with ghost stories in Byron’s villa, that Mary began “Frankenstein”. Byron was a great admirer of the novel and he and Mary continued to be close, even after Shelley’s untimely death in 1822.
What did you find most surprising about Shelley’s story when you were researching this play?
It was really surprising to discover how shocking Mary and Shelley’s story still is. The choices they made because of their love and their philosophies would still be considered radical and certainly divide opinion. Their families were deeply and in some cases devastatingly affected by their actions. The story has the power to make us all think about how we live our lives and what we prioritise.
If you could sum up Mary Shelley in three words, what would they be?
Mary Shelley was courageous, volatile and controversial.