Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Review Gods and Monsters Review

Gods And Monsters 
By Russell Labey
Based on the novel Father Of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram

The Artful Dodger 

Two months have gone by since you last heard from TLT, your glamorous theatre spy,  and her ruby red limousine. Now she has to confess, after previously infiltrating the theatrical world anonymously, she has broken cover and accepted a Press Night ticket for this newly-adapted play Gods and Monsters.

The novel Father of Frankenstein, already made into a successful film, and the current Gods and Monsters’ play, directed by adapter Russell Labey, charts the final days in the life of openly gay Frankenstein movie director James Whale (an affecting and effective performance by Ian Gelder).

Born British and working-class, after attending art school he reinvented himself  first as World War I army officer, then as theatre director and eventually double-edged success at Universal Pictures in the 1930s as a movie director, whose toolbox included German Expressionism.

Following his Hollywood hits and technical innovations including a cutting-edge 360° panning camera shot in musical Showboat starring Paul Robeson, he nevertheless found himself caught up in studio and world politics and sidelined, retiring in 1941.
By 1957, the turmoil resulting from several strokes, dependence on prescription drugs for sleeping and waking and even, gallingly, being pigeonholed as solely a horror movie director, had taken its toll on Whale. The play presents an increasingly fragmented world through his eyes and physical symptoms, alongside the mixed solace of his later years, his painting.   

Finally, he apparently took his own life, knocking himself out in the swimming pool of his Hollywood home and drowning, little knowing his movies would soon have a new lease of life on the new mass medium of television 

Often with the feel of a monologue interrupted and resuming, the character of Whale has its main foils in a Hispanic housekeeper (Lachele Carl making the most of her intermittent appearances), an ambitious fey young horror movie buff chasing his hero for an interview (Joey Phillips) and, as if stepping out of the pages of an Americanized E M Forster or D H Lawrence novel,  the heterosexual gardener Clayton Boone (Will Austin), reluctantly baring his nude torso to pose for Whale’s art – and finding himself the object of the older man’s desires. The play also includes Grecian-statue-style male nudity and strobe lighting.

A lengthy first act of an hour and ten minutes has a tendency to bare its own musculature and insert exposition a little self-consciously, also shoehorning in a somewhat formulaic Cold War subtext.

Yet, despite a few longeurs in this diffuse play, the much shorter second act with dynamic visuals - projections by Louise Rhoades-Brown - and sound design/score by John Chambers, bringing visceral depth, constructs something more original out of the celluloid context, using Whale’s true-life history, art and sketching and a repertoire of movie clichés to interrogate itself. An amber light for new light on a tale of classic old Hollywood.