ROYAL                  English Stage Company



Directed by Ann Jellicoe            Opened October 18, 1965


The action takes place from 1811 to 1822, in Oxford, London and Italy.



The Cast

Ronald Pickup



John Castle

2nd Lead

Hogg, Trelawny

Sebastian Shaw

Older Man

Coplestone, Godwin, Lord Eldon

Iain Cuthbertson


Walker, Westbrook

Timothy Carlton

Walking Gentleman

Master, Bailiff, Shelley’s Lawyer, Edward Williams

Bernard Gallagher

1st General Utility

College servant, Westbrook’s servant, Moneylender, Eldon’s clerk



William Stewart

2nd General Utility

Westbrook’s servant, Godwin’s servant, Moneylender, Porter, Eldon’s clerk

Frances Cuka

Leading Lady

Miss Ferney, Mary Godwin

Kika Markham

Juvenile Lead

Harriet Westbrook

Avril Elgar

2nd Leading Lady

Miss Pybus, Eliza Westbrook

Lucy Fleming

Juvenile Character

Hellen Shelley, Mrs. Godwin

Nerys Hughes

Walking Lady

Miss Meeks, Clare Claremont, Jane Williams



     World       November 1965       Review by Sheridan Morley


The BEST—and indeed the worst—that one can say of Ann Jellicoe’s Shelley at the Royal Court Theatre is that it would make an adequate shooting script for a Hollywood film version of Shelley’s life.  The production, directed by the author herself, is the first by the new triumvirate management who have succeeded George Devine at the Court.  They have assembled a reasonably talented company well led and united in a good cause; indeed one cannot but wish them all well.


Yet, this said, the fact remains that the play they have chosen to open their first season really isn’t good enough.  No one who saw The Sport of my Mad Mother or The Knack could doubt that Miss Jellicoe has talent as a playwright; but in turning from contemporary realism to historical semi-realism her talent has failed her badly.  True, the transition is not an easy one.  Few modern playwrights have succeeded in the biographical idiom.


Her concept of Shelley is surprisingly conventional:  the long-haired poet alone and palely loitering, played by Ronald Pickup with a kind of breathless intensity which makes one wonder how he ever found the time to write anything.  He remains an adolescent throughout: occasionally funny, often touching, but never even adult let alone mature.  Not once does a flicker of the poet’s genius pervade Mr. Pickup’s performance, and this is not the actor’s fault alone.  He can only work with what he is given, and he has not been given nearly enough.


We follow the poet through the last eleven years of his life, from his expulsion from Oxford (dramatized in a stereotyped, almost farcical way) to his death by drowning off the Italian coast.  And, ironically, it is only in the description of his reburial that the play comes to life in words written by Trelawny at the time and brilliantly spoken by John Castle who plays the part.  To give her due, Miss Jellico has stuck to the facts.  Scenes open with such blatant time-pointers as “Since he left England—six years ago now wasn’t it?”.  But when she wanders off into the necessary invention, her writing is in the best Hollywood style with such archetypes as joky-senile dons, domineering nouveauriche fathers and weepy wives.  Even the poet’s middle name is written—or at least played—for a laugh and the dialogue contains one all-time classic:  “Shelley, you ought to learn to swim”.  I was reminded throughout of those ‘thirties films of composers’ lives which used to open with a maid saying:  “There’s a Mr. Haydn to see you Ma’am”.


Whether or not you admire Shelley’s work—and I am not a particularly ardent fan—he deserves better treatment than this in what is I believe the first biographical play about him.  He was evidently not the poseur that Byron was, although seeing Mr. Pickup reciting some of Shelley’s better –known poems in the brief moments between emotional crises, one begins to wonder.


Ultimately the play fails because it is superficial and eminently predictable in its dialogue; also because Miss Jellico has been unable to back the known facts with a convincing version of Shelley’s private life. Its only real strength—apart from the Trelawny monologue—is the final scene in Italy where Frances Cuka, playing Mary Godwin, lifts the play off the ground and makes it work for a few brief moments.  But even here it borders on the melodramatic.


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