REVIEW: Blood and Ice, Chesil Theatre
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REVIEW: ‘Blood and Ice’ – Chesil Theatre 21st January 2017
By David Cradduck
‘Blood and Ice’, as the title might indicate, is no cheery tale. Far from it, the story of Mary Shelley, her poet husband Percy, her flighty, somewhat naïve half sister Claire Claremont and the infamous Lord Byron is a bubbling cauldron of intrigue, love, lust, disgust, remorse, regret and probably every emotion that exists. It is a ghost story with a conscience.
Mary wrote the original Frankenstein largely as a result of this four-way relationship and the quartet’s somewhat unorthodox literary activities on the shores of Lake Geneva in the early 1800s. The ultimate Gothic monster she created continued to haunt her as she lived through the troubled times that followed.
It is no wonder Mary Shelley was a troubled soul. She lost her mother before she had barely drawn breath, three infant children of her own and two more died unborn; by the time Percy Shelley drowned at the age of 29 and Byron passed away at 36 only a couple of years later, she was very much a disillusioned woman.
This is not a story to tackle flippantly or inadvisably, and Chesil Theatre is not known to shy away from such material, preferring to steer a course of real variety in their productions. Mary Shelley is light years away from Chesil’s recent summer shindig starring another famous character, Robin Hood.
‘Blood and Ice’ veers from being an intimate double act (Mary and Claire) to a full five hander, including the two men in their lives and the not-so-cameo role of Elise, the maid, played by newcomer Zoe Hare. Zoe demonstrates well what can be achieved emotionally within a relatively small role. No walk-ons in this play, that’s for sure.
The men are, to a certain extent, means to an end in Liz Lochead’s story. ‘Mad’ Shelley and the philandering Lord B, ably portrayed by Tom Maggs and Tom Dangerfield – the latter growing into the part as the play proceeded – are pivotal in the whole dubious affair (‘affair ‘is probably the best word to describe it) but the real action centres around Mary and her transition from talented and loving daughter/friend/writer/mother to haunted widow and victim of her own circumstance. This is a role made for Eleanor Marsden who makes the emotional journey from deliriously happy to almost suicidal look easy but whose facial expression in the final line-up gives away just how emotionally draining her character is to play well. She is Mary Shelley and Jo Russel is no less convincing as her sibling. These two act so well together.
Designer Duncan Wilson’s deceptively simple and attractive duck-egg blue and cream conventional box set is augmented by a few unusual but very effective features: doorways that support no doors; a gauze backdrop which acts as a projection screen for video effects worthy of a good TV drama and also as a see-through window to reveal Frankenstein’s monster, the ghost of Byron and Chesil’s own mesmeric chapel windows; a veiled, pulpit-style platform to which Mary ascends regularly to narrate and write her story manages the flashbacks with the aid of changes in lighting.
You have to hand it to Chesil, they do have one of the most intimate and atmospheric theatres around. Director Alec Walters and the production team have made excellent use of that feature to bring this troubled, but intriguing, story to life.
Given the passages of time and us flying backward and forward within it, it would have been good to see a few more changes of costume (or even accessories) and/or lighting to denote different locations but this is a play that works on raw emotion and great acting, making everything else – even costumes, set, props – a little superfluous. On that level it works, and really very well.
‘Blood and Ice’ is a brave choice of production for any small theatre – but this experienced theatre group has proved once again that it can meet, and do justice to, such a challenge.
‘Blood and Ice’ runs until Saturday 28th January.