'Beautiful Monster' takes its first roar
by Karlton Parris, creator of Beautiful Monster, a daring new play touring the UK 2017
When I first began to look at Beautiful Monster as a play, what struck me was just how daring the romantics were. Byron, Keates, Polidori and the Shelleys held such an immediate fascination for me as I tried to imagine just how deep the shock and scandal they caused might have ran. I wanted to capture that sense of erotic freedom and total concept of free love as well a...s the complex relationships and physcological mind games that accompanied their shocking adventures. In Beautiful Monster, the older Mary Shelley, in her dying hours, recalls these times of her youth and unblemished beauty and the eroticism is seen through her eyes, part memory, part fantasy. I began the writing process with one clear distinction in mind, the refusal to consider any kind of sexual labels, for me the romantics pursued love and sexuality in all its forms with apparent equal ferocity and that is what I hoped to capture in the play.
When the casting notices for Beautiful Monster were posted, we received over 500 applications, another indication that material regarding this era and these characters are highly attractive to stage actors. The four actors now playing the roles of Byron, Percy Shelley, young Mary and John Polidori are a perfect fit, each carries a resemblance to the actual people, be that physicality or a facial similarity, but the most overriding importance is the degrees of authentic sensuality they each bring. All three men have intimate moments throughout the piece with young Mary (Amy Forrest), husband Percy Shelley (Edward Darling), lover Lord Byron (Liam Selkirk) and rival John Polidori (Ben Iveson), then we see the tender love affair between Byron and Percy and the darker, more destructive sexual obsession between Polidori and Byron. Rather like the romantics, Beautiful Monster is a piece of theatre where love in all its glorious forms is found inclusive for all, as it should be beyond the fourth wall of the theatre.
Capturing the freedom of expression, both written and sexual, the Romantics movement of Byron, Shelley, Keates and Polidori was a cornerstone in the creation of 'Beautiful Monster'. UK actors Liam Selkirk, Edward Darling and Ben Iveson embody that spirit, tackling the erotic nature and homoerotic content with unflinching, brave performances. Working from the premise that all of the sexual content is fuelled through the fantasy and memory of Mary Shelley, it is the male cast that brilliantly portray such content.
WARNING NUDITY AND SEXUAL CONTENT
The Filming of Beautiful Monster
In summer 2017 we shoot a feature film- it feels wonderful to type those few words
From the very beginning of writing 'Beautiful Monster' as a stage play, the embers of a feature film project had been lit. I deliberately crafted a stage play that could open into a film, not just a filmed version of the play, but a whole new visual experience to consider as within the stage version we work from the premise that Mary Shelley's madness is driving the narrative, with the freedom of film that experience can now be heightened. Animation and CGI will feature on occasion as will some underwater filming. We have selected a glorious stately home in the Staffordshire countryside that is delightfully gothic with period features and furnishings, lofty drawing rooms, erotic bed chambers, authentic scullery and enchanting gardens and, most importantly, a lake.
Rather like the Romantics themselves, our cast and crew are having our own year
of adventure, the film is slotted between our UK theatre tour, ending in March, and prior to our New York run in August- one can't help but anticipate that the closing show in the big apple will be met by one hell of a rap party.
CAST AND CREW
In my mind there was never any discussion to consider not having the stage cast for the film, this project works because of the components each actor brings and I would take that authentic connection to my material any day of the week over trying to secure a name or star, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Polidori are big enough names for me if you can imagine that, in his day, Byron was bigger than say Johnny Depp.
We have within our ranks all we need to transpose from the stage to the screen, animators, composers, cinematography, sound and editing, make-up, hair and costume design, so after the curtain falls we head for LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
When I began the creative process of creating 'Beautiful Monster', I confess the images I saw unfolding in my mind were driven by the visual delights of the
Steampunk movement. There is something delightfully dark and brooding in the blend of fashion and objects, a sensuality that fits perfectly with Mary Shelley and the artistry of the romantics.
As we start this journey to stage and screen our production design team are exploring how we can blend all aspects whilst telling a surprisingly delicate and fragile story.
Steam punk is a sub genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the Cyberpunk genre, Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history, either 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk may, therefore, be described as neo-Victorian. Steampunk perhaps most recognisable features are anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, as is the case with the production design of the stage and screen versions of Beautiful Monster.
We hope to actively encourage both our theatre and movie audiences alike to dress accordingly, lets hear the leather and the lace as we dim the lights and take you back to a dark and stormy night in Victorian England.
Whilst beautiful monster is a refreshing and highly original take on the Mary Shelley genre, it goes without saying that our score will find its origins in the metal clang and hiss of steam machinery. After all, did Mary herself not envision the working of some powerful engine as her monster shuddered to life?
Beautiful Monster stage version opens at the Salford Arts Theatre, Manchester on February 28th 2017
Mary Shelley is, in essence, a dramatists dream subject, there are so many options to explore when considering penning a stage play about her life. The concept of portaying her final hours through a kaleidoscope of memories fuled by her condition seemed the perfect fit, her real life was as vivid as her writing, by casting two actresses to play Mary, we get to see her at both the beginning of her literary jounrney and at the end. Using a series of vinyettes, actresses Wendy Laurence James (older Mary) and Amy Forrest (young Mary), mirror each other in simple ways, a hand gesture, a synchronized turn of the head, allows the audeience to view a memory reinacted, be that a first kiss at old St Pancress graveyard, the last fight with husband Percy Shelley before he departed for that ill fated sailing or the loss of her infant children. In 'Beautiful Monster', things also take a more sinister turn when older Mary's memories become horrific halucinations, confronted by the monster she created. Wendy Laurence James and Liam Selkirk (monster) are elecricfying in these marcarbe scenes that will set pulses racing, then in the next breath the lucidity returns and we see a woman trying to remember all the times of her life as the clock ticks towards her own mortality. What has struck me most as we now go from the page to the stage is just how much of Mary Shelley's life history is encapsulated within the play, now both young and old Mary are fusing together on stage you can feel it, loss, excititment, fear, lust, heartbreaking sorrow, savage wit, petulance, vanity, each actress bringing layers and layers of revelation charting a 35 year span of such an extrodinary life.
From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein’s monster there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire – a creation of Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori (Ben Iveson).A fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure.
A vampire is a thirstything, spreading metaphors like antigens through its victim’s blood. It is a rare situation that is not revealingly defamiliarized by the introduction of a vampiric motif, whether it be migration and industrial change in Dracula, adolescent sexuality inTwilight, or racism in True Blood. Beyond undead life and the knack of becoming a bat, the vampire’s true power is its ability to induce intense paranoia about the nature of social relations to ask, “who are the real bloodsuckers?” thing, spreading metaphors like antigens through its victim’s blood. It is a rare situation that is not revealingly defamiliarized by the introduction of a vampiric motif, whether it be migration and industrial change in Dracula, adolescent sexuality inTwilight, or racism in True Blood. Beyond undead life and the knack of becoming a bat, the vampire’s true power is its ability to induce intense paranoia about the nature of social relations to ask, “who are the real bloodsuckers?”thing, spreading metaphors like antigens through its victim’s blood. It is a rare situation that is not revealingly defamiliarized by the introduction of a vampiric motif, whether it be migration and industrial change in Dracula, adolescent sexuality in Twilight, or racism in True Blood. Beyond undead life and the knack of becoming a bat, the vampire’s true power is its ability to induce intense paranoia about the nature of social relations to ask, “who are the real bloodsuckers?”
This is certainly the case with the first fully realized vampire story in English, John William Polidori’s 1819 story, “The Vampyre.” It is Polidori’s text that establishes the vampire as we know it via a reimagining of the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.
“The Vampyre” is a product of 1816, the “year without summer,” in which Lord Byron(Liam Selkirk) left England in the wake of a disintegrating marriage and rumours of incest, sodomy and madness, to travel to the banks of Lake Geneva and there loiter with Percy and Mary Shelley (then still Mary Godwin). Polidori served as Byron’s travelling physician, and played an active role in the summer’s tensions and rivalries, as well as participating in the famous night of ghost stories that produced Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny,” Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus.
Like Frankenstein, “The Vampyre” draws extensively on the mood at Byron’s Villa Diodati. But whereas Mary Shelley incorporated the orchestral thunderstorms that illuminated the lake and the sublime mountain scenery that served as a backdrop to Victor Frankenstein’s struggles, Polidori’s text is woven from the invisible dynamics of the Byron-Shelley circle, and especially the humiliations he suffered at Byron’s hand.
Ben Iveson captures the inner turmoil of Polidori to perfection, his performance is measured and very seductive. Rather like John Polidori, Ben is very visual, the on stage chemistry between him and Liam Selkirk as Byron and Amy Forrest as young Mary is thrilling to behold. Could the infamous Lord Byron have been the inspiration for two of the greatest monsters ever created? For the beauty of each is to be found within the text of Mary Shelley and John Poliduri and history tells us Byron smashed his way into both of their hearts.