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Frankenstein Lives! Mary Shelley in Dorset

PUBLISHED: 12:59 23 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:53 20 February 2013

Frankenstein Lives! Mary Shelley in Dorset

Frankenstein Lives! Mary Shelley in Dorset

More than a century after it was last used, a private Dorset theatre built by the son of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary, is to stage a new version of her famous Gothic tale

Frankenstein Lives!


More than a century after it was last used, a private Dorset theatre built by the son of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary, is to stage a new version of her famous Gothic tale


It could not be more appropriate, a pre-Halloween production of Frankenstein: The Year Without A Summer, staged by candlelight in a run-down theatre, whose peeling plaster and paint will do doubt add to the atmosphere. This new take on Mary Shelleys Gothic horror story by the Dorset Corset Theatre Company marks the first moves to reinstate a working theatre at Shelley Manor, which after falling into a state of terrible neglect is about to be reanimated.
The old estate in the Bournemouth suburb of Boscombe, was once the grand 19th-century home of Sir Percy Florence Shelley and his wife, Lady Jane. They moved there in 1851 intending to provide a home by the sea for Sir Percys ailing mother. Widowed at the age of 24, when her husband drowned off the Tuscany coast, Mary Shelley suffered delicate health and sadly died at the age of 53, just weeks before she would have taken up residence at the manor.
Percy Florence, named after the city in which he was born, had been only two-years-old when his father died. At Shelley Manor he kept the memory of both his illustrious parents alive. On Marys death, a box-desk in her room was opened and found to contain the remains of Shelleys heart, which had been famously snatched from the flames of his funeral pyre by his friend, Edward Trelawny, the novelist and adventurer.
It was placed in a casket and brought to Boscombe, where for decades it sat on a plinth under a perpetually burning candle. Eventually, after Sir Percys death, it was removed and buried in Marys grave at St Peters Church in Bournemouth.
During the 20th century the old manor was used as everything from a Home Guard HQ to a school, an art college and briefly a Shelley museum. But gradually it fell into ruin and moves were made to redevelop the site. It was only tireless campaigning from conservationists, desperate to preserve what they saw as a vital part of Bournemouths heritage, that saved it from the wrecking ball.
Thanks to the Friends of Shelley Manor, the old house is now home to a thriving medical centre and pharmacy. The GPs who work there are delighted with its connections to Mary Shelley, whos most famous story was inspired by the attempts of 18th-century scientists to reanimate dead flesh.
Now attention is being turned to the theatre. Once the scene of stylish soires and genteel entertainments, it is in the process of being clawed back from the brink of dereliction. Philip Proctor, the architect in charge of the redevelopment project, says he hopes the Shelley Theatre will be fully operational by next year and staging regular productions by touring companies.
In the meantime he feels that the half-refurbished building will provide the perfect Gothic backdrop to this new take on Frankenstein. It will be staged by candlelight because the permanent electrical system has yet to been installed. With the peeling plaster and paint, its going to create a great atmosphere, he tells me.
Long-time campaigner for the Friends of Shelley Manor, local Councillor Chris Wakefield, agrees: Its perfect, he told me. The tickets are selling like hotcakes. It shows what the passion, commitment and hard work of the Friends has achieved. This theatre will be the jewel in Bournemouths crown once the renovations are complete.


Frankenstein: The Year Without A Summer is at the Shelley Theatre, Beechwood Avenue, Boscombe, from 27-30 October. For tickets: Regent Centre, Christchurch, 01202 499199 or regentcentre.co.uk


The Dorset Corset and Frankenstein
Dorset Corset is a professional theatre company based in Shaftesbury specialising in productions based on classic literature and containing a fusion of physical theatre and live music.
With backing from Arts Council South West, Frankenstein: The Year Without A Summer, written by Helen Davis and directed by Helen Watts, features actors William Kenning, Gary Trainor and Natalie Farmer. It is set in May 1816 when Mary and Percy Shelley travelled to Lake Geneva to stay with their friend, the infamous Lord Byron. It was there, late at night by candlelight, that Mary talked with gruesome fascination about the medical experiments of the 18th century and the horrors of restoring a corpse to life. Byron threw down a challenge to Mary to create her very own supernatural story.


Also playing at Bridport Arts Centre, 6 Oct; The Royal Manor Theatre, Portland, 7 Oct; Broadmayne Village Hall, 23 Oct; The Digby Hall, Sherborne, 31 Oct; The Regent Centre, Christchurch, 2 Nov; Dorchester Corn Exchange, 7 Nov and Shaftesbury Arts Centre, 13 Nov.

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