Everybody knows the story of Dr Frankenstein, of the genius whose boundless idealism and ambition festered into something twisted and dark, and of the poor and tortured creature that became his life’s work. However, Liz Lochhead’s Blood & Ice, as reanimated by director Camilla Asher and members of the Leeds Arts Centre, focusses on a rather different story of a creation gone awry: that of Mary Shelley and her famous novel, and the destruction it wrought upon her life even after it should have been forgotten.
Beginning in the late 1820’s, we follow a widowed Shelley (played by Jessica Glanz) as she grapples with the course her life has taken, reflecting on everything from her heady love-drunk days in Geneva to the years she was forced to spend in exile in Italy. All the time she is both literally and figurately haunted by the shadow of the monster she created at just 18, which is enduring and omnipresent even as her children, husband and dearest friends die around her.
Glanz’s portrayal is perfectly contradictory: both a free-thinking and struggling under the weight of both her mother and Percy’s ideologies, all at once progressive and alarmingly classist. Her turmoil is the heart of the show, and though it follows Shelley’s slow descent into disillusionment and uncertainty, Jessica’s urgency ensures that even at her most hopeless, Mary is never languid but desperate for answers.
Levity comes in the form of Joe Saxon’s deliciously unapologetic Bryon and Ben Hopwood’s fae-like Percy Shelley, though neither character escapes the madness that infuses the show for long. Percy’s desire to transcend flesh and blood makes his fate clear from the start, and Hopwood’s frantic energy only adds to the feeling that he is less tangible and real than the monster Shelley created.
Bryon’s hilarity only makes him a more tragic figure as the play progresses, as we see the romance of his vices fall away and the self-awareness of the denial it is bourne out of. It is to Saxon’s credit that he makes one of history’s most tiresome figures engaging enough to elicit sympathy, while still showing his prejudice and pretension. His Frank-N-Furter-esque characterisation is one of the highlights of the show, as we the audience are caught in the crossfires of the charisma of such a deeply immoral, yet almost irresistibly likeable, portrayal.
In short, Blood And Ice is a showcase of what amateur theatre can be with minimal set and a skeleton cast. It is intimate, deeply chilling and perfect for Halloween – delivering human scares that cut far deeper than the horror story Shelley intended to write in the first place.
Blood And Ice shows at the Leeds Carriageworks Theatre from Wednesday the 18th to Saturday the 21st of October.
(Image courtesy of Carriageworks Theatre)