Shelley’s Frankenstein comes back to life – with a beat – at Senate House

Friday 27 April 2018
Image: @ Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy


The School of Advanced Study, University of London, will stage a frightfully good time to celebrate Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with an immersive exploration of this iconoclastic masterpiece at Senate House on 23 May (6.30–10pm). 

Living Frankenstein’, the third in the School’s series of annual literary recreations designed by Professor Sarah Churchwell, will explore Shelley’s seminal work of horror and science fiction through theatre, experimental storytelling, beatbox performances, film screenings and hands-on activities.

It’s a bold reimagining of the tale of the passionate young scientist who creates a monster by animating human flesh. It will be a serious, but playful, historical examination of the complexity and subtlety of the Frankenstein legend – not for nothing was it subtitled ‘or The Modern Prometheus’. It is also believed to be the very first science fiction story in world literature.

‘We are thrilled to be working on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in honour of the bicentenary of its publication this year,’ says Professor Sarah Churchwell. ‘It is fair to say that the response to the idea of an immersive “Living Frankenstein” event has been tremendous – everyone is excited about the possibilities for an evening of surprising experiences and pop-up talks from an amazing array of experts into the many ideas Shelley’s ground-breaking novel explores.

‘We are also pleased that our celebration of Mary Shelley can contribute to the University of London’s “Leading Women” campaign, as we celebrate the achievements of women in education and the humanities. It’s going to be a brilliant night showcasing some brilliant women (and men!) as they take us through the astonishing achievement of Mary Shelley – just 18 years old when she wrote Frankenstein.’

Through dramatic recreations, leading experts will explore some of the most memorable scenes and ideas from the book and Hollywood movies, and its continuing echoes in popular culture. Living Frankenstein is also an opportunity to examine many of the social, ethical and philosophic questions it raises about modern science, like ‘in vitro’ and stem cell areas of medicine.

The evening’s eclectic programme includes:

  • Beatboxers – vocal and bassline artistes – from the Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy will perform sections of their latest show, Frankenstein.
  • Musical collective Minima’s recital, inspired by James Whale’s 1931 filmic adaptation of Frankenstein, will be followed by insights from film expert, Dr Sarah Artt (Edinburgh Napier University).
  • A recreation of the 1816 ‘candlelight ghost storytelling sessions’ in the Swiss villa where Mary and Percy Shelley and their friends Lord Byron and John Polidori `created the stimulus for Frankenstein. The vignette ends with the University of Exeter’s ‘Prof of Goth’ Nick Groom, discussing the setting of Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre.
  • Dr Sam George (University of Hertfordshire) will present a vampire slaying kit dating from the time of British vampirologist, Montague Summers (1880–1948). These kits were owned by a number of families and were popular on the stage in vampire theatricals. They contained a crucifix, Bible, holy water, wooden stakes and a mallet together with the 1851 edition of book of common prayer.
  • Senses expert Professor Barry C Smith (School of Advanced Study) will be on hand to test people's abilities to distinguish the odour of fear from that of excitement. Through subtle chemosignals humans can detect and be affected by the smell of fear.
  • Guests will also have the unique opportunity to taste ‘alchemy inspired cocktails’ and dab on ‘A Curious Essence’ – a 200-year-old perfume recreated from its original parts – to smell delightfully of fresh flowers, citrus fruits, whale vomit and goat glands.


Notes to Editors:

1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653  /

2. Living Literature is an annual series of events from the School of Advanced Study, University of London, bringing an iconic work of art to life by using research expertise to shape an audience’s experience. Based on the model of immersive theatre, these immersive lectures will break down the barriers between audience and lecturer, and between audience and work of art, by creating dynamic, participatory avenues for audiences to discover key ideas, themes, histories, and contexts. Find out more at

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 786 research fellows and associates, held 2,007 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 24.4 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 194,145 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

4. The University of London is a federal university and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the university is recognised globally as a world leader in higher education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, and nine research institutes. Learn more about the University of London at