Thursday, 2 November 2017

Review The Invisible Man


The Invisible Man
by Clem Garritty
adapted from the novella by HG Wells

The Vanishing Point
http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/

This loose new adaptation of an HG Wells' novella starts off as a promising attempt to fuse themes from a number of different horror tales into an adventurous tale of scientific hubris,  but ultimately falls at the final hurdle.

Jack Griffin (Matthew Spencer), the son of a college Dean, is a young Victorian scientist who believes his experiments will lead to recognition, fame and fortune.

Gradually, though, lack of understanding from family and friends and the axing of his funding, turns his laboratory research into a bitter vendetta and obsession.

He alienates those around him including a suffragette colleague (Eleanor Wyld) on whom he pins his romantic hopes. However he is truly developing a miraculous formula - with the potential for good and evil, as well as unintended consequences.

Directed by Ryan McBryde, there are many enjoyable elements in The Invisible Man, especially in the first act.

The integration of modern themes works pretty well and, despite some clunkily literal lyrics, the inclusion of actor musicians does add  to the atmosphere and also help the scene transitions on the large Queen's Theatre stage.

Purists may object to the inclusion of a female love interest. However it has long been the custom in earlier screen adaptations and  the invention of suffragette Lucy has a resonance with other works by  science fiction pioneer HG Wells.

Wells's own brand of  feminism is found in novels such as Ann Veronica, although it also should be said, it ran side by side with an extremely active adulterous sex life and the fathering of at least one illegitimate child

The Invisible Man's first act does have hints of a certain unwieldy wordiness, perhaps trying to keep rather too much of the writer's novelistic scientific explanation 

Even so, despite these few stutters,  the story manages to gallop along along at a lick with a double narrative time scale, nicely combining a televisual feel with a fully fledged stage drama.

It's in the second act that this version of the classic Wells tale comes a cropper, losing its momentum at what should be some of its most exciting moments.

The thought did then occur that adaptor Clem Garritty's - and songwriter Rebecca Applin's - The Invisible Man is really a musical manqué, with uncertainty of tone and lengthy, laboured explanations suddenly filling the vacuum instead of songs.

It's a shame that the narrative energy drifted off after such an engrossing start.

Lily Arnold's set of browns and grays combines pub doors and  research filing cabinets with sliding sets for a tiled laboratory and a rented mahogany village room. Along with Nic Farnham's lighting and Applin's sound design, pace is maintained in a muscular first act.

Maybe it could have done with a bit more spectactular illusion (magic consultant - that's a title not an adjective! - John Bulleid) and been a bit tighter, but this isn't initially a major flaw in a ripping yarn.

Additionally one could feel the collective audience mind ticking as plausible intellectual and mercenary motivations for the actions of the characters were laid before them. 

It's ironically in some of the visually cleverest,  most stylized moments that this production comes apart.

Jack Griffin, increasingly demented both when visible and invisible, a kind of English Rashkolnikov who believes he can get away with murder, develops the visceral look of a silent film villain.

There are glimpses of Jack The Ripper, Sweeney Todd and Frankenstein in the drama's styles, but it all goes increasingly awry. What should be a desperate rooftop encounter drags, as words rain heavily down rather than the action being pushed forward.

The different narrative time scales also start to tell against the play, with the audience left confused for just a tad too long before the pay-off explanation comes.

While, after the first act, TLT and her own mad scientist automotive sidekick thought The Invisible Man might be an exciting family show, by the end it feels far too long and runs out of steam.

Perhaps the bandages were taken off too soon and it's a show put on before it was ready or, as previously indicated, the bare bones of a darkish musical.

However our own visible critical twosome are loathe to entirely write it off - with further development and tightening up, this dramatic experiment might work far better. Mainly for the first act, it's an amber/green light.

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