Mary Shelley was just 18 when she dreamed up her Gothic horror Frankenstein - but how did her famous creation haunt her in later life?

That's the question explored in Creation: The Making of a Monster, at Lauderdale House in Highgate. Deborah Clair's play finds Mary in 1840 returning to Lake Geneva two decades after events at the Villa Diodati when she, Byron, Percy Shelley, and Dr John Polidori vyed to write ghost stories one storrmy summer.

Now Byron is dead, her husband drowned, and three of her children have perished as infants. A single mother living on slender means, she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery to  confront the creation that made her name.Ham & High: Tyra Gordon Brow and Deborah Clair in ConceptionTyra Gordon Brow and Deborah Clair in Conception (Image: Peter Mould)

Taking a feminist spin on Mary's life, Clair says: “In Mary Shelley’s day society dictated the need for women to be wives. If not, the other paths were decidedly perilous: spinster, divorced, widow, harlot…corpse.

"Mary was completely off-grid with her choices – elopement, travel, children out of wedlock, a thinker and writer. Her life straddled two eras – Romantic and Victorian – and the latter really didn’t know what to do with her!"

Conception is directed by former Eastenders star Lucy Speed, now a regular in The Archers, who believes Mary's story deserves to be better known.

"Mary is very modern is but lives in a world steeped in this old-fashioned thinking and I think that reflects women's lives today," she says. "We are modern, but still indoctrinated into hundreds of years of how it's always been."

It was several years before Mary felt able to put her name on Frankenstein's title page and even then, some suggested it was written by her husband. She went on to write eight more novels, short stories and essays and brought together a complete works of Percy's writings that cemented his reputation.Ham & High: Lucy Speed far left directs Conception which is on at Lauderdale House Highgate on September 28.Lucy Speed far left directs Conception which is on at Lauderdale House Highgate on September 28. (Image: Peter Mould)

Speed points out that while Byron and Shelley treated her as having an "equally brilliant brain" she was still hampered by being forced into caring roles.

"She spent a lot of time trying to be the wife of Shelley. It's tempting to think what could have been had she not been a woman. Society decided this is what a woman should be and how she should think, and her talents were hidden. Even today, she wrote this story that's been woven into almost every narrative in modern cinema - yet people don't learn about her."

Speed was just 17 when she landed the role as Natalie Evans in the BBC soap, but although she had made her stage debut aged eight, fame came as a shock.Ham & High: Lucy Speed directs Conception at Lauderdale HouseLucy Speed directs Conception at Lauderdale House

"You are either brilliant at being famous or you are not," she says. "I never much wanted to be famous, I wanted to be a jobbing actor and I had acted so long without fame, I didn't consider it to be part of my job."

"When I was offerered Eastenders I thought 'I will quietly crack along and have a jolly old time.' No-one told you about the press, or the attention from 21 million viewers. I thought 'they won't be interested in me.' And I didn't realise that it doesn't go away, you don't just leave and everything's forgotten, it goes on and on, so when I left nothing changed."

When she returned to the soap five years later, "because I needed to pay the bills," she was determined to be more in control and ended up enjoying it. Her career since has included The Bill, the sit-com Cradle To Grave, and dramas Marcella and Unforgotten.

"You have to work quite hard to convince the industry you are capable of all sorts of parts. I have found my voice and power, and trust in myself that I didn't have when I was younger."

The Archers she says, is "lovely" because there's no hair and make up or line learning and she likes playing Home Farm manager Stella Pryor.

"I love the character. She 's very direct and rude, if a woman is like that she's told she's agressive, if a man does it they call him a leader.

"Plus I get to do all these other things like judging the food and farming awards for Countryfile."

She also loves directing, working collaboratively "firing off ideas and getting your brain working.

"I started in this business 40 years ago, I know how to talk to actors and love seeing how they interpret ideas."

Returning to Mary, a radical free thinker, whose wings were clipped, she says Conception "reflects what happens to a lot of us in middle age".

"We look back on the choices we made in life. We all think we have studied feminism, but we don't realise how much we fall into the patriarchal pattern without realising it."

Conception is at Lauderdale House Highgate on September 28.