EFR - Reviews of Fantasmagoriana

Fantasmagoriana

Sat 6th – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Ellen Marsh

at 11:33 on 14th Aug 2011

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One of my worst fears, something I absolutely hate, is being late to the theatre. I was late to Fantasmagoriana. So I cannot claim to be writing a review of the entire show – the first 5 minutes are a mystery to me. However, if those first 5 minutes were completely brilliant and impressed the audience, they clearly changed their mind after that. (I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the cast for being late – I know it’s awful and distracting, and I am genuinely sorry.)

Fantasmagoriana is billed as a comedy. However, the audience seemed completely determined not to laugh, even when the actors were delivering vaguely funny lines. Frequent references to Byron’s bear went unnoticed. This is due partly to the actors not delivering these lines as comic, and partly to the lines not being very funny. The biggest laugh was a response to a ridiculously weak pun – Percy Shelley (Laurens Macklon) referring to a booze-laden picnic as a ‘liqnic’ (liquor picnic). The actors are perfectly fine – but none sets the stage alight, and it doesn’t help that the material they’re working with falls a bit flat.

The play is supposedly about the writing of Frankenstein, and imagines what informed Mary Godwin’s (later Shelley) creative experience in Switzerland. Though there are definite related elements – relationships between fathers and children, and the role of the writer as creator – these feel like rather weak and superficial attempts to connect to her novel. The scene where Mary meets the Creature she will create in fiction feels out of place in an otherwise realistic and straightforward production.

The idea of this play is brilliant – where did ‘Frankenstein’ come from? – but it is simply not explored to the fullest extent here. So much more could be done with the idea of creators and parents, and beyond that, to ideas on humanity and society, but these are all breezed over, and dealt with on a surface level. There is no real content, and I struggled to understand what the play was trying to communicate. Everyone is doing their job quite well, but to no worthwhile end. I found it very difficult to engage with, the characters very difficult to care about, and the play itself completely unlike the description I had read of it beforehand. Fantasmagoriana doesn’t do what it says it will, but maybe they explained that in the first 5 minutes.

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Harriet Baker

at 14:12 on 17th Aug 2011

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Byron, Shelley and Mary Godwin are assembled in a villa in Switzerland, and it is here that Byron, impetuous and passionate, suggests the idea of a ‘contest’; in which the best storyteller will win. This is the famous stormy evening on a lake in Genève that Mary Godwin begins ‘Frankenstein’. Yet, although this is the central precept of the play, it falls beneath other dynamics and plots. Mary is tussled over by Byron and Shelley, one claiming her art and the other her affection. The dialogue is superb and witty; men cattily complimenting each other and competing for the central role. Byron’s friend, John Polidori, also lays claim to Byron’s affections, and competition, jealously and hidden resentments create a perfect boiling pot for drama. Asides are administered with relish, in antithesis to the sensible humour of Mary Godwin.

The level of acting is superb. Katie Alcock gives a faultless performance as Mary, oscillating between confrontation with and affection for Shelley, and the quieter musings of her artistic self. Lord Byron is played brilliantly by Adam Drew, whose assurance on stage dominates the piece. The chemistry between Katie Alcock and Laurens Macklon brings life and sincerity to the relationship between Mary and Percy Shelley, yet on the third bout of passionate kissing I thought perhaps I had got the message. The smoldering sexual energy was highly effective, yet it would have been subtler without repeated noisy kissing.

The polish and performance of this piece renders it worthy of four stars, yet it falls short not in its direction but in its construction. The production proclaims that the audience will witness the birth of ‘Frankenstein’, yet I felt this was not given space amid the comedic aspects of the piece. Mary muses about sparks of life and men of science quietly on her own once or twice, and the lights flicker stormily, yet the closing scene, of a distorted, pale body lurching towards her in the murky candlelight, seems to jar with the rest of the play. The comedy and the horror do not successfully unite; there is not enough space given throughout the play to Mary’s wilder and darker imaginings. The play does not, as it claims to do, show the birth of Frankenstein. However, this only faintly dulls what is otherwise a polished and confident production.

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