Students Staff

02 March 2015

Frankenstein writer’s new play inspired by story behind the Gothic classic

Nick Dear

Nick Dear (Photograph copyright Nobby Clark)

Essex alumnus and BAFTA award-winning writer Nick Dear is investigating the inspiration behind Frankenstein for his especially commissioned play which will be unveiled at the University of Essex’s Lakeside Theatre this weekend as part of Essex Book Festival.

In 2011 Nick wrote the script for the highly-acclaimed adaptation of Frankenstein at the National Theatre, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. The two lead actors alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, eventually sharing the Olivier Award and London Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for their respective performances.

Now Nick is revisiting the world which produced the Gothic classic and the relationship between eighteenth-century English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher and novelist William Godwin - the parents of Frankenstein writer Mary Shelley.

Interestingly he is also drawing on ideas about the Enlightenment which he first encountered during his studies at the University of Essex, when completing his .

Nick, who was asked to write the play as part of Essex's 50th anniversary celebrations, said: “In conversations with Liz Kuti from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies and others about what I might write for Essex's 50th anniversary, I often found myself talking about my memories of being an undergraduate in the 1970s.

“One of the things that sticks most strongly in my mind is the (then compulsory) Enlightenment course, much of which has stayed with me and influenced my work.

“So I thought it would be pertinent to take something from that period as a subject. We also talked about the genesis of Frankenstein which I adapted for the National Theatre and I started to wonder about Mary Shelley's parents, and the world of north London radicals into which she was born. The story of the courtship of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin is the result. “

On Sunday 8 March, his new play will receive a 'script in hand' performance at the Lakeside Theatre.

“I'm looking forward to hearing it, of course,” he said. “But more interesting will be the feedback I hope to get from our audience; any kind of critical response, at this stage whilst the play is still in development, is helpful to me. “

Over the past three decades he has written for theatre, radio and television including a BAFTA award-winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion and six adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels for the small screen. One of his most recent plays was In The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, his biographical play about Edward Thomas, at the Almeida Theatre directed by Richard Eyre.

“My interest in theatre began when I was an undergraduate at Essex in the mid-70s,“ he said. “There was no drama course then. We just put on plays. I acted in some, directed some, produced some, and by the time I graduated had written a first play of my own (fortunately never performed). So I have much to thank Essex for, with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, of course, I complained as much as any other student.”

Nick’s work is often linked to a very particular time period, but he admits there is a balancing act between historical accuracy and telling a story which connects with the audience.

“There is no 'right' in this respect,” he said. “All there is is a language which sounds convincing. I usually do a lot of general research, but in this case the period was one with which I'm already quite familiar. The dialogue I have written bears no relation to how people actually spoke, or wrote, in the 1790s. But it uses some constructions, or individual words, which with luck will give a flavour of the time. And of course, there is always a place for a judicious anachronism!”

Nick added: “My usual approach to starting a new project is to put it off for as long as possible. Eventually, a combination of fear, embarrassment, financial worry and having thought about it for quite long enough means I begin work. Clearly, something or other is happening during this period of procrastination, because once I do start, I write quickly. I am always telling my family that though I may appear to be lying down with my eyes closed, I am in fact working terribly hard.”

Out of Essex: Celebrating 50 Years of Theatre at Essex10.30am to 4.30pm, Sunday 8 March, Lakeside Theatre, Colchester Campus

This week's highlights

  • 7pm, Tuesday 3 March – Thirst, Kerry Hudson, Art Exchange, Colchester Campus
  • 6.30pm, Thursday 5 March – Patrician Press, readings by Professor Philip Terry, Emma Kittle-Pey, Mark Brayley and Patricia Borlenghi. The Press was established by Patricia after completing her MA Creative Writing at Essex. Wivenhoe Bookshop, High Street, Wivenhoe.
  • 7pm, Friday 6 March – The Edge of Extinction, Professor Jules Pretty, Lakeside Theatre, Colchester Campus
  • 10.30am to 8pm, Saturday 7 March – Out of Essex: Poetry. Celebrating 50 years of poetry at the University of Essex, Lakeside Theatre
  • 10.30am to 4.30pm, Sunday 8 March – Out of Essex: Theatre. Celebrating 50 years of theatre at the University of Essex, Lakeside Theatre
  • See all the details

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