THE chequered history of Boscombe’s Shelley Manor will have turned full circle later this year when a play about the creation of Frankenstein is staged in the theatre built by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

It’ll be the first show held in the theatre at least since the art college left in 1998.

“This is really exciting for anyone who has an interest in Bournemouth history, the Shelleys, or theatre in general; or those like me who have a profound interest and love for the building,” says Cllr Chris Wakefield, former vice chair of the Friends of Shelley Manor.

The manor has been largely restored and reopened as a medical centre earlier this year, but the theatre – built for the Shelleys in 1865 – has been used as a storage room and not renovated.

“Fortunately that means it has been spared any great damage,” says Chris. “The stage isn’t raked as it once was, but it is still a substantial size; the flooring is original; the cornice is intact and we still have the proscenium arch. New windows have been put in and some of the old ones shuttered, so other than needing a really good clean, it’s not in bad shape.”

Shelley Manor dates from 1801 when it was built as Boscombe Cottage for Philip Norris. It was bought by Sir Percy Florence and Lady Jane Shelley in 1849 and extended to include the theatre in 1865. The Shelleys loved to entertain visitors with supper theatre and other productions, allowing the theatre to be used to raise funds for Boscombe Hospital and the first Boscombe School, on the site of what was the Boscombe Centre for Community Arts in Haviland Road.

“There’s a terrific connection with a fascinating episode of Bournemouth history,” adds Chris. “A lot of people worked very hard to prevent the demolition of Shelley Manor and it was a real struggle at times so to be on the brink of actually using the theatre is wonderful. There will be a lot of people who remember the building from years ago – and plenty of people who will be seeing inside the Manor for the first time.”

The play, Frankenstein: The Year Without a Summer, is being staged by the Dorset Corset Theatre Company as the culmination of a short tour that ends with four nights at the Shelley Theatre from October 27.

The story centres on the cold, rainy night in May 1816 when Percy and Mary Shelley arrived at the home of their friend, the poet Lord Byron, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Deep into the night they talk about the 18-year-old Mary’s fascination with medical experiments and re-animating dead matter. Byron then issues a challenge to Mary – to create a supernatural story of her own. And so Frankenstein was born.

“The great thing is that Bournemouth will get a new theatre that can house a range of productions,” says Chris. “We lost the BCCA which was a great shame, but this is a great space. I’d like to see supper theatre in there, like the Shelleys enjoyed, and there’s a restaurant to be build adjacent to the theatre. I’d also hope we can attract productions looking to try out in front of a discerning audience before they transfer to London.

“Of course, it will have to wipe its own nose and pay for itself, so there will be room for commercial ventures and conference rooms for rent above the theatre as well.

“The whole project is dependent on the sale of flats being built next door to Shelley Manor so it’s impossible to put a time scale on completion, but in five years I really believe it will be complete and there will be a thriving arts community centred on Shelley Theatre.”