In the summer of 1816, two of England’s great Romantic poets – Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron – met on the shores of Lake Geneva, in an encounter engineered by Claire Clairemont. sometime lover of both and half-sister of Shelley’s then partner (and later wife) Mary, creator of Frankenstein.

Howard Brenton’s 1984 drama imagines that and subsequent meetings of this unconventional quartet in exile as their utopian experiment in free living claims its casualties. Shelley’s abandoned first wife commits suicide, a child falls sick, another is taken from her mother – and Nick Trumble’s Dr. Polidori (Byron’s physician) looks on, an envious outsider, as he reports back to his publisher. 

In a play in which the women are consistently let down by the men, it’s the performances of the latter which dominate, with Joe Bannister’s intense Shelley no less controversial in his views or his behaviour than David Sturzaker’s swaggering Byron, who embraces his “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” soubriquet with a reckless indulgence in scandalous excess.

Jermyn Street Theatre, SW1Y 6ST
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
until 25th February

– Louise Kingsley