As we stood expectantly outside the Abbey Hotel in Bath the late afternoon sunshine was obscured behind clouds that rolled in, fat and grey, growing darker with every passing moment. A woman cloaked in dark clothing bade us good evening. As the clouds threatened rain overhead she spoke of strange events, mishaps with locomotives and frightful weather to come. She promised that she’d tell us tales of horror, divulge dark secrets and unearth ghouls of centuries past.
A ripple of excitement ran through the crowd as we readied ourselves for an evening with the darkly clad stranger. What horror had we let ourselves in for? Something to make the spine tingle and the eyes pop against the spectacular backdrop of Bath. No, we weren’t about to sell our souls but embark on a walking theatre production that would shed light on the creation of Frankenstein and the life of the author, Mary Shelley.
Stopping off at a slew of recognisable Bath addresses, beginning with none other than the Pump Room, Show of Strength’s Sheila Hannon expertly guided her captive audience. As we walked through the cobbled streets and dim alleys we followed the footsteps and charted the turbulent lives of the Shelleys, the step-sisters, relatives and lovers with whom their existence intertwined, often with tragic consequences.
Hannon’s show is not just a variation on a Bath tourist walking tour, it offers a fascinating insight into the conditions in which the one of the most famous novels in the English language was created. At the heart of the show lies the premise that, as is so often the case with gothic horror, not all was quite as it seemed with the Shelleys. Broke, in hiding, concealing a dark secret and beset with numerous personal tragedies it’s little wonder that Mary Shelley was able to draw on her personal experience and create such a haunting tale and an unforgettable monster that stalks the imagination of popular horror to this day.
The Bath setting is no accident as Mary Shelley wrote part of her famous work here. And while the locales are integral to the show, the splendid terraces, cobbled streets and Georgian architecture certainly make for a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop; it’s not hard to imagine Mary’s pen scratching away while she occupied her quarters in the most fashionable city of the day.
And on a chilly September evening, with the nights drawing in and the leaves just beginning to turn, Bath couldn’t have been a more perfect backdrop for an early-Autumn horror story. Especially not when the brooding clouds overhead broke and unleashed their fury to the accompaniment of an all-too-fitting thunder and lightning storm. There’s no promising what the weather will do but Frankenstein in Bath is as good a reason as any to coax yourself out of doors for a tale of horror, secrecy and monstrous creation.
Show of Strength’s Frankenstein in Bath is on until 30 September. Tickets at the meeting point outside The Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath.