MISERY is the only book I have read that I have had to put down and go away and do something else while I processed the fact that I was supposed to believe that a nurse would deliberately chop off half of a patient’s foot to get her own way.
Problem was, I did believe it.
Stephen King is a powerful writer and a master of creating horrific situations out of the mundane.
Paul Sheldon, superstar author of Gothic romances, is seriously injured in an accident in a remote area and rescued by self styled “number one fan,” nurse Annie Wilks who heals then victimizes him, trying to control the author of the books she adores to force him to write a further novel about a character he has killed off.
It’s not surprising that In Yer Space found some depth to explore in the script, and even though this stage adaptation by Simon Moore cuts out the complexities that made the original ambiguous and rich, Colin Snell skillfully directed it as an effective grotesque comedy.
It is to the play’s credit that both roles are played by powerful actors.
The last time we saw Carl Parker at the Gaiety was in The 39 Steps in a very physical role; for Misery he managed to make the almost static bed-ridden role engaging and even exciting.
For most of the first act, his responses to Annie’s devotion is bemused astonishment, which would wear thin pretty quickly if he hadn’t found ways to signal it other than by an elegant raising of his left eyebrow.
In the second act, particularly in the scenes where Annie’s trying to dictate the sort of writing she wants him to do, he was captivating.
The play, of course, belongs to the character of Annie (it’s no accident that Kathy Bates won an Oscar for the role in the movie), and Rachael McCormick did a powerful, effective job of portraying the erratic and threatening looniness of the lonely reader whose psychotic dreams become reality.
John Dryden said back in the 17th century, that when characters died on stage an audience was likely to laugh.
He thought the way to escape that problem was to have such things happen off stage.
In the 20th century, though, we tend to use that ambiguous and repressed laughter the way Shakespeare sometimes did, to emphasize the grotesque.
This production used that strategy regularly: often, the audience’s laughter was choked back as a realisation dawned that what seemed funny was actually appalling, or vice versa.
This use of the grotesque is typical of Stephen King, in fact, and any production of his work faces the challenge of walking a tightrope between laughter and nausea.
If this production tilts the balance, it’s toward laughter - it’s more a grotesque comedy than a serious excursion into paranoia and fear. (At the one moment of real, movie-style terror, the audience laughed almost immediately.)
Is it good theatre? Yes, Engaging, even engrossing; a focused evening’s entertainment.
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Weather for Isle of Man
Sunday 19 May 2013
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