The story behind Frankenstein: A Review of Not All A Dream

Unless you live under an unspeakably large rock, the last month or so of your metropolitan Perth life has rapidly improved under the benevolent dictatorship of Fringe Festival. Suddenly: fairy lights in every tree, colourful yurts, boats and wooden structures, and people miming bizarre acts in the street. The most wonderful time of the year.

Although Fringe draws heavily from comedy, it serves up a feast of bite-sized theatre. Brushstroke Productions’ Not All A Dream is one that quite literally stands out from the rest— located each weekend in a seemingly unreal corner of Mundaring, on the banks of a small lake in the gathering twilight.

Not All A Dream is written by Grace Chapple, produced by David Mitchell and directed by Daniel Moxham, and was inspired by a series of real-life events between the young Frankenstein-author Mary Shelley, her lover Percy Shelley, and the infamous Lord Byron. The group spent a stormy summer together on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, where Byron is said to have suggested they each write a ghost story to entertain themselves.

The young Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster was born— or, re-animated— shortly after.

Mary Shelley (playwright Grace Chapple) and her sister Clair Clairmont (Cassidy Dunn) are subject throughout the performance to the sort of overt misogyny we recognise in most historical productions. The feminist tone meshed well in moments of comedy, and served to shape the male characters into two archetypes of men we may come to know in daily life— Byron (Thomas Owen) as the blatant discriminator, and Percy Shelley (Ben Thomas) as the pseudo-progressive, performative activist.

Similarly, Dunn and Chapple’s characters are subject to the two common female archetypes— Mary Shelley suffering as the ‘difficult woman’ and Clair Clairmont as her unfailingly perky, ‘simple and happy’ counterpart. Both actresses transcend the designated tropes in such a way that Chapple’s message was clear— no women are so one-dimensional that they are always one and not the other.

The emotionally explosive nature of the play throughout scenes of affairs, esteem and betrayal could have meant the young cast might struggle— these fears were completely unwarranted. Moxham took on the more restrained character’s expressions of deeply disturbing emotive trauma. Chapple’s performance also stood out in this respect, owning all the maturity that a grieving mother and betrayed lover requires. Dunn’s manner of traversing her character’s development over the performance was impressive. Owen’s portrayal of the sort of humorously insufferable Lord Byron was stellar, and succeeded in having me (excuse the ineloquent phrasing) really, really want to punch him in the face.

The only element of the performance that did not sit quite right with me was that of accent. Sometimes the characters switched between British and their natural Australian accents, which was a tad jarring and briefly broke the suspension of disbelief.

The performance could not be adequately reviewed without mention of the location and set design. I absolutely praise respective set and sound designers Reinette Roux and Ronan Chapple for their work creating a mood that illustrated every different setting of the play, from stormy lakes to waking dreams.

Not All A Dream relies on discourse about the existence of women in creative spaces over time, drawing upon poetry, prose and theatre in the process. It reminds us to look beyond the usual providers of creative arts, and to consider what can be made in diversity. Although the season is finished— having sold out many of its shows— we should look to Brushstroke Productions and its wonderfully talented youth in the artistic year to come.

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