Home » Reviews » Drama » Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse – Review
Credit: Annabel Vere
Credit: Annabel Vere

Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse – Review

Pros: An excellent opportunity to see an experienced veteran of the stage and screen in a fabulously meaty leading role. 

Cons: It clocks in with a substantial 135 minute running time, and the overly long first half can be rather to languid for its own good.

Pros: An excellent opportunity to see an experienced veteran of the stage and screen in a fabulously meaty leading role.  Cons: It clocks in with a substantial 135 minute running time, and the overly long first half can be rather to languid for its own good. Gods and Monsters (originally a 1998 film starring Ian McKellen), based on Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein, considers the career and fate of James Whale, monumental director, most famous for his adaptation of Frankenstein. The play explores Whale's life and career and his slow dissolution into obscurity.Once he was known throughout the world, yet if…

Summary

rating

Good

A solid production, built around strong performances, which works tirelessly to resurrect the life of one of Hollywood’s forgotten giants.

User Rating: 3.5 ( 3 votes)

Gods and Monsters (originally a 1998 film starring Ian McKellen), based on Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein, considers the career and fate of James Whale, monumental director, most famous for his adaptation of Frankenstein. The play explores Whale’s life and career and his slow dissolution into obscurity.Once he was known throughout the world, yet if it wasn’t for  it’s likely that today only the cine-literate would remember his name. It’s a fate that many in Hollywood must one day endure, and Gods and Monsters examines Whale’s singular experience and reaction.

At the play’s outset, we join Whale in the eve of his life, living in semi-obscurity, tired with Hollywood and frustrated, having been pigeon-holed by this one film. 

Ian Gelder is fantastic in the central role. He is required to display two very different sides to Whale. There is the side he shows to his guests, which has become a rather grotesque caricature of a slightly lurid and predatory Hollywood homosexual. Gelder gives the sense that Whale has fallen into this role and has now played it for so long it feels like a second skin. Here Gelder captures the sharpness, the hint of danger to Whale’s interactions that gives the play a much needed tension.

However we also see there is a glimmer behind the eyes that suggests the real Whale is buried somewhere beneath. It is here, where Gelder has the opportunity to look backwards, that he really shines. Labey has given him some lengthy monologues to work with and there is a quite splendid reminiscence about beef dripping that takes the audience away from the swimming pools of Hollywood right back to the heart of the industrial working classes.

Gelder is well supported by Will Austin as Clayton Boone, a Missourian so naïve that I felt it might be stretching it even for the 1950s. The arrival of Boone sets the play on its course and Austin displays a real presence that ensures the audiences eyes are fixed firmly upon him.

Whilst the cast work hard to ensure that the action remains fluid on stage, the play itself is mainly set in Whale’s house and at times it can become rather static. With the audience seated on three sides of the stage I recommend that people choose to sit on the sides rather than front-on. From these positions they will get a complete view of the actors and will feel fully involved with the on-stage action.

The play runs for 135 minutes and whilst it rarely felt ponderous, it did feel like there are opportunities for it to be shortened. It contains a great deal of interesting information but I would question whether it is all entirely necessary. The art of a really great biographical play is to remain sharply focused on the core narrative throughout and so be able to distil a great man’s life into an evening’s entertainment. Russell Labey’s stage adaptation of Gods and Monsters doesn’t quite achieve this greatness but it is still an impressive attempt to give life to the man who gave life to a monster.

Director: Russell Labey
Producers: Danielle Tarento and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Booking Until: 7 March 2015
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/gods-and-monsters/

About Tim Read

Tim Read
After failing to run away with the travelling circus at an early age, Tim never had the chance to fulfill his dream career as understudy to the knife thrower's glamorous assistant. Putting this early set-back to one side, Tim has subsequently carved out a career in the equally glamorous trade of public policy. Outside of paid employment he can often be found hunkered down in the stalls of one of London's many theatres; pen eagerly gripped in one hand, paper held tight in the other and a glass of red wine wedged precariously between his knees.
  • jabba

    I think you mean Ian Gelder not Glen!

  • Jonjon

    I attended the play ‘Gods and Monsters’ play and found it thoroughly entertaining, so would highly recommend this show. The acting performance from Ian Gelder in particular, was awesome and showed he truly is a master of his craft and profession!. We found this play delicious from start to end with all cast members being so good.
    I visit fringe theatre 3~4 times per month, often encountering a lot of dross being performed so many a time I’ve quietly slipped away at the interval… yet I thought this play was first rate throughout and would rate it as one of my top plays for many a year and in my humble opinion well worthy of a west end transfer…

    I found NO problem with the length of the first half, nor felt the play was overly long .. in fact wishing the play have gone on longer for I would have loved it to encompass the ending as in the Book!.. My only reserve, was over the inclusion of full nudity, no way am I a prude, but believe nudity invariably detracts from the acting, I’ll freely admit, I enjoy ogling muscles and blokes tackle as much as the next person, but much prefer to catch a suggested outline, or being tantalised by a glimpse of hot flesh on stage which makes one imagine what delights lay beneath… this approach always appears far sexier than staring at a limp member with stage fright!…. Stage nudity tends to raise a couple of ‘uneasy moments’ were you to be accompanied by your Mother, Elderly Great-Aunt or Grandmother on their birthday treat!…

    The Southwark Playhouse is a warm, charming, friendly space with a nice bohemian cafe feel environment, filled with a nice happy crowd and helpful staff, for just a few pounds we had a grand evenings entertainment of such good value.