Perth Theatre

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Playing God, as every writer of speculative fiction will know, is something that goes with the mind-expanding, parallel universe-mastering – or indeed mistressing – territory. So it goes for Eilidh Loan’s myth-making Mary Shelley in Rona Munro’s new adaptation of Shelley’s much reinvented gothic fantasia, in which strung-out scientist Victor Frankenstein ends up on the receiving end of his own life-giving creative force.

By putting Mary onstage at the centre of things rather than a mere framing device, Munro has written something that gets to the heart of the creative process itself. With only hints of what’s going on in her own teenage life, Mary gives full vent to her darkest imaginings, as she allows Michael Moreland’s loveless Monster to exact deadly revenge on Ben Castle Gibb’s Frankenstein, raising the show’s body count to Agatha Christie style proportions.

Only in the second act does Mary let Michael Moreland’s flesh and blood Monster off the leash and allow him some sense of self-destructive autonomy. Even here, alas, he is steeped in a savage humanity not of his own making.

The result of this in Patricia Benecke’s production, a collaboration between Perth Theatre, the Belgrade, Coventry, Sell A Door and Matthew Townshend Productions, is a peeling back of several layers of the psychological onion. Set among the Swiss-styled balconies and hanging trees of Becky Minto’s set, it’s easy to recognise Munro dissecting, re-drafting and knitting together her own monster just as Mary does.

With a pencil handily lodged inside her tied-up hair and sporting a full-length leather coat, Loan’s Mary is a woman possessed with a thoroughly modern head-girl briskness while sporting cyberpunk apparel. This is a long way from the late-night hammy horrors where many of us first absorbed more sensationalist takes on Shelley’s yarn, and more resembles a 1970s Marvel Comics styled reboot of the classics.

By the end, Mary may have slain a few demons of her own, but as the lights go out, she has also fallen prey to something far more dangerous. Now she’s had a whiff of the all-encompassing addictive buzz of having made something immortal, she knows things will never be the same again.