Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse
Like the 1998 film of the same title, the play Gods and Monsters is an adaptation of the 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, focusing on the last days of the troubled film director James Whale.
The play opens in the 1950s, a decade or so after Whale’s retirement, and weaves in and out of clever flashbacks to recount, with poignant nostalgia, the director’s early life. The play utilises to great effect a small cast playing multiple characters, with the narrative flowing effortlessly – from Whale’s difficult childhood in Dudley as an outcast homosexual living in grinding poverty, to his service in the First World War.
Whale, who is now quietly living out his retirement in a modest Hollywood suburb with his housekeeper Maria (Lachele Carl), has just hired a new gardener, Clayton Boone (Will Austin). The dynamics of his relationship with this young handsome former marine, which ranges from respectful friendship to raging sexual obsession, forms the backbone of the plot. In what is mainly an intense dramatic production, the lighter moments are provided by Kay, the overenthusiastic camp young journalist (Joey Phillips), and Maria. Despite being very caring and protective of Whale, Maria disapproves of his sexuality, and her sarcastic one-liners in voicing this provide plenty of laughs. There is nudity throughout but it is tastefully done and necessary to the plot.
The cosy Southwark Playhouse has an immersive atmosphere, and the modest set ensures that the focus is firmly on the performance. The cast is good and Gelder, in particular, is superb as James Whale. Will Rastall and Joey Phillips do well in their portrayal of multiple characters, but every now and then you feel that the emotional range required falls just short of the target. Philips, for instance, is excellent as Kay and as young Whale, but his portrayal of officer Barnet, Whale’s wartime buddy, is somewhat unconvincing.
That aside, the level of dramatic intensity expected of such a production crescendos towards the closing scenes, when Whale attacks Boone – no doubt why most of the audience were on their feet during the rousing ovation.
M E Oren
Gods and Monsters is on at Southwark Playhouse until 7th March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.