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Frankenstein in the SBT Collection

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Kelsey Ridge delves into the SBT collection to explore our Frankenstein related materials.

Kelsey Ridge
Programme for Frankenstein performed at the RSC in 1986
Programme for Frankenstein performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986 (recto)

Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein

by Richard Brinsley Peake 

This adaptation was released in 1823, the same year the second printing of Frankenstein was released. Unlike the first printing, the second edition bore Mary Shelley’s name, and to her surprise, she found herself quite famous.

Mary Shelley herself saw another production of this play when the adaptation was originally staged at the English Opera House in London. On 29 August, shortly after her return to England from Italy, Mary Shelley attended the show, accompanied by her father William Godwin and her friend Jane Williams.

This production was held in the evening of 18th June 1824, and much like when Mary Shelley saw it, it appeared as the last in a night of three performances. It was a benefit performance for Mr. Byrne, which means the actor Mr Byrne (who appeared in all three bits, including as Hammerpan, one of the “gipsies” in Presumption) received all of the profits.

This advertisement follows the tradition established by the English Opera House in London of referring to Frankenstein’s unnamed creation as ***.  When Mary Shelley saw the production in London, she remarked that, “The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list of dramatis personæ came, ‘----- by Mr. T. Cooke’: this nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good.”

Although Shelley was “much amused” and felt the production “appeared to excite a breatheless eagerness in the audience,” she did note of this adaptation that “The story is not well managed.”  Indeed, a brief scan of the dramatis personae listed on this advertisement, to say nothing of the plot summary provided, makes it readily apparent they have not followed Shelley’s plot. The character Hammerpan, for example, does not appear in Shelley’s novel. The novel also does not end with an avalanche. Some of these changes may be attributable to the fact that this text was not originally performed at a patent theatre, and thus the theatre could not perform serious drama but could perform pantomimes, musical entertainments, spectacles, and melodramas, which this text provides.

ER1/47/38 Hunt papers Frankenstein detail
Playbill for Presumption, or the fate of Frankenstein (18 June 1824) (ER1/47/38)

Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus

By David Richmond and Bob Hall

This adaptation, by Americans David Richmond and Bob Hall, appears to have cleaved more to Shelley’s text, as the characters named in the dramatis personae are figures from her novel. Richmond and Hall had previously collaborated on an adaptation of Gothic fiction. Their Passion of Dracula played in the US and on the West End in 1978. Frankenstein appears to be their second collaboration.

This staged reading was part of the 5th RSC/ WH Smith Youth Festival in 1986. The reading was performed at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 30th November 1986 at 9:45pm. Tickets could be purchased at the door for £1.50.

The front of the playbill shows a line drawing, perhaps of '-----' himself.  (-----, played by John Patrick, is referred to on this playbill as The Monster). It was drawn by Bob Hall, who illustrated for Marvel Comics when not directing plays. In a whimsical touch, this playbill includes the credit “ADDITIONAL SOUND EFFECTS – THE AUDIENCE.”

The play would later premier at CSC Repertory in New York and had its regional premier at Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati.

Programme for Frankenstein performed at the RSC in 1986 (verso)
Programme for Frankenstein performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986 (verso)

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