Gods and Monsters is an interesting beast, no pun intended. It’s based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher bram, although most viewers will be more familiar with the movie starring Ian McKellen, which came out in 1998. The story in all its iterations is a semi-fictionalised account of the last days of James Whale, the director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.
At this stage of his life, Whale is retired and lives in America, with a stern housekeeper named Maria, who obviously cares a great deal for Whale but shows it in the stern, huffy manner we’ve become used to with this sort of character.
Whale has recently had a stroke and has not long been home from the hospital. The after-effects has left him battling memories, including from the time he was in World War I – Whale was an officer on the Western Front and was a prisoner of war between 1917 and 1918. At the start of the play, he is being interviewed by Kay, played by the delightfully charming Joey Phillips, where the interview turns into a sort of a strip poker, where Whale challenges the young reporter to remove one piece of clothing for each question, which Kay eventually agrees to do. As the moment Kay strips down to his shorts, the scene switches as Whale is suddenly watching a younger version of himself (played by Philips) drawing a friend, both men fully nude.
The play takes multiple trips back to the past for Whale, while life in the present freezes and he’s forced to relive moments he might not want to think about. These moments often begin with audio and visual projections on the wall, which apart from a large drawing of Frankenstein’s monster and a frightened lady, also have thin red lines spread across the wall which is reminiscent of the nerves in your brain as a medical poster would show them.
In the present, Whale is infatuated with Clayton Boone, the muscular young lad who fixes the yard, and by claiming to want to draw Boone he gradually becomes closer to the young man, eventually attempting to manipulate the situation for Ward to get what he ultimately wants from Boone, which is not what you initially expect.
Whale is beautifully played by Ian Gelder, who shows great comedic timing and great depth, and in the beginning when Whale first starts to lose his mind into what they call an attack and we move into the past, I wasn’t sure if Gelder was acting or genuinely forgetting his lines. Gelder carries the play and you come to feel for Whale. While at first he comes across as a bit of a dirty old man, as the play progresses you recognise the sadness and pain that comes with slowly losing your mind that anyone who has watched a relative age will recognise.
The supporting cast are all very good, and while Lachele Carl’s Maria is written as a rather stereotypical Sassy Nurse type, she is played with a grounding of warmth and caring that make you enjoy her presence.
Gods and Monsters is at once funny and painful to watch, and highly recommended. One word of warning though: be prepared for a lot of gay jokes – and full frontal nudity.
Review by Tori Jo lau
Frankenstein director James Whale, long forgotten by the studios and in reclusive Hollywood retirement has fallen victim to a series of strokes. The only demons he fights now are in his head. Handsome new gardener, Clayton Boone, becomes an unlikely friend and unwitting player in Whale’s grand finale.
Not so much a Hollywood history as a glorious imagining exploring the sometimes divine, sometimes monstrous landscape of obsession and desire. Based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram – the same source material as for the 1998 Oscar-winning movie, Gods And Monsters.
Creative Team: Director Russell Labey, Set & Costume Designer Jason Denvir, Lighting Designer Mike Robertson, Sound Designer John Chambers, Projection Designer Louise Rhoades-Brown, Producer and Casting Director Danielle Tarento.
Cast: Will Austin, Lachele Carl, Ian Gelder, Joey Phillips and Will Rastall
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Thursday 5 February – Saturday 7 March
Times: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00pm
Thursday 12th February 2015