Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Gods and Monsters at the Southwark Playhouse
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Gods and Monsters at the Southwark Playhouse
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Gods and Monsters at the Southwark Playhouse
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12 Feb REVIEW: Gods and Monsters at the Southwark Playhouse

Call me presumptuous if you will, but I’d hazard a guess that when you clicked the link to this review, you didn’t consciously ask the muscles or tendons in your finger to contract in a pressing motion. Your brain just handled it, without you even being aware. The human mind is a marvellously complex and fascinating thing. It’s incredible to think how just by firing tiny electrical signals across forests of synapses, it manages to let you interpret what’s on the page as language, construct a personality, form our language, store and relay memories. But more than that, it interprets sensory data, coordinates movement, determines consciousness, and sculpts perception. Everything to do with every experience is down to the brain. And yet, despite having inspired generations of psychiatrists, psychologists, biologists, and philosophers, our understanding of this most extraordinary organ is negligible. Even knowing this, it still takes a play like Gods and Monsters to remind you of the power of the mind over human experience – and more specifically, to remind you of the human experience that results when there’s a storm in that forest of synapses.

When James Whale, a former Hollywood film director with titles like Frankenstein to his name, suffers a stroke, that’s exactly what happens. With no precursory clouds to warn him of the impending storm, he’s thrust, alone, into unknown territory where decade-old events happened moments ago, where language gets lost en route to the tongue, and where pain just…exists. Plumbing the depths of one human’s psyche, Gods and Monsters takes us inside the electrical blitzkrieg that is Whale’s mind.

Ian Gelder’s Whale is a brilliantly eccentric, eloquent man, the kind that starts talking, and the whole room falls silent as everyone stops to listen. To tales of growing up in the West Country, of life in the trenches, and of being someone to know in “old times” Hollywood. All told in the most fabulously expressive way. But as an older man with a keen eye for a younger one (particularly Clayton Boone, his gardener), there are moments when you can’t help but think, “is it okay to do that?” And others when you know the answer would simply be no. In a post-Savile world, whilst the allegations never verge towards unacceptable behaviour with a minor, they do cross the line into inappropriate sexual conduct, and would certainly make the Daily Mail headlines today. The decision of director Russell Labey to include segments with nudity and violence adds incisiveness without feeling gratuitous, though does seem to create a different talking point to the play than perhaps was intended.

There aren’t many productions that could have a first act lasting an hour and twenty minutes, and make it feel like just twenty minutes. But such a compelling story, pertinent scriptwriting, brilliant direction and an outstanding lead in Ian Gelder make it so. With script and direction both courtesy of Russell Labey, he crystallises his credentials as a theatrical force to be reckoned with, particularly in the crafting of the closing scene, one of the most striking, memorable ending scenes of any play.

An exciting new play, Gods and Monsters takes the lid off Frankenstein’s monster’s head, plunges two hands and a pair of eyes inside, and waits to see what will happen. Only in this case, James Whale is Frankenstein’s monster, and that head is his head.

Venue: The Large, Southwark Playhouse
Dates: 5th February – 7th March 2015
For tickets and information:
Image: Annabel Vere

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here