Aizaac Sidhu, Becky Cooper, Becky Cooper's Making Monsters, Edinburgh Fringe, Fantasmagoriana, Frankenstein, Jen Painter, Lord Byron, Mary Godwin, Mary Shelley, Matt Sheppard, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Surgeon's Hall, The Golden Fire Theatre Company, Theatre Review
The story on stage today at the Surgeons’ Hall has been told many times, though the last time at the Edinburgh Fringe was probably in Tamara Felisa Micner’s 2011 play “Fantasmagoriana.” Its circumstances surely hold an irresistible temptation for any theatremaker. The three of them, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s lover and future wife Mary Godwin were all under the same roof, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Housebound by the incessant rain, the company agreed to Byron’s proposal that they each write a ghost story. If ghosts and Romantic poets still do not guarantee the fullest possible extravaganza, Godwin’s entry to the competition would duly form the basis for her sensational science-fiction novel Frankenstein (1818).
So the Golden Fire Theatre Company’s “Making Monsters” might often look like it is depicting a bad-tempered mountain holiday, but the souvenir gifts to us all are the books, the films, the millions of mesmerised readers, an enormous quantity of terrible postgraduate feminism, and one of Edinburgh’s silliest themed pubs.
This resurrection is not perfect though. The play’s different parts do not quite knit together properly; Byron et al might be “alive” again but they are not really restored to their old selves. Perhaps the playwright Becky Cooper has not given this monster a zap of the correct voltage. Godwin (Cooper) is rather too clear-headed, like the amateur detective who is surrounded by dim-witted policemen. Byron, Shelley, and the attendant Claire Clairmont are each hummed in a single note. Byron (Aizaac Sidhu) is histrionically haughty and he becomes only briefly recognisable when he departs from the script, so to speak, to read some of the beautiful lines from “Darkness.” Shelley (Matt Sheppard) is well-meaning but insecure whilst Clairmont (Jen Painter) is just plain foolish.
Micner’s play had made Byron’s doctor John Polidori the comic number and her Byron had been genuinely curious about Mary’s creativity. Cooper ditches Polidori and the remaining Byron is improbably smouldering and farcical. “Making Monsters” wants to have fun with a cheery fantasy in which a girl beats the boys at football. Of course, this tale is always so interesting, however it is told, that “Making Monsters” never seems like a waste of time. Cooper has the necessary eye for detail when, for example, she dwells on Godwin’s active fascination with surgical proceedings. But these were complex egos, who had come together to accidentally supply the psychological crucible for a masterpiece, and the flippancy of this play is ill suited to their story.