It is quite a feat to put on a play with multiple characters when your cast is just three strong. When your show is a rather slapstick comedy version of The Invisible Man then those multiple characters actually help provide some of the best gags of the evening; the doctor proclaiming “I carry this bag to help make clear I am a doctor”, or knowing nods to the fact that one man is playing three different policemen, causing great confusion to the people seeking police assistance. It also means Martin Robinson’s costumes are to the fore in distinguishing each character. Costume changes offstage must be fast and furious at times, yet there is no hint of a missed item.
These little moments of humour are what make the latest production from Jack Studio such an enjoyable affair. I’m not an expert on HG Wells’ classic novel (be honest, how many of you have actually read it?) but my knowledge of his writing strongly suggests that the original book wasn’t a comedy. Yet that is what Derek Webb’s script creates on stage, and with mostly successful results. OK, there are times when the slapstick is just a little too ‘panto’, and its contrast with the seriousness of Griffin (the man with the title’s infliction) and everyone else makes for slightly strange bedfellows. But somehow, under the direction of Kate Bannister, they manage to share the same stage, often at the same time. There are also some minor references to Wells’ thoughts on society, especially in a speech on the attempts to subvert government, though these are kept to a minimum, and it’s almost questionable if they even belong because it is the humour that makes this show a success.
Webb’s reworking of the classic story sees our protagonist initially seeking a remedy for his predicament, but soon using it for crime instead. The cast of three do a superb job of it all. Shaun Chambers perhaps has the most difficult task of portraying the Invisible Man, delivering his lines through various face coverings. At other times he is just a voice in the air, leaving the rest of the cast testing their acting skills to the full as they grapple and communicate with an unseen foe. Chambers’ companions are Scott Oswald and Matthew Parker, and it is Oswald who maybe steals the show as the tramp Marvel, his physical comedy repeatedly drawing out laughter from the audience.
Much fun is also to be had with Karl Swinyard’s set design. The signpost is a work of genius, turned and added to as a way of showing location, but even more effective as a comic prop. By the second half we are eagerly waiting for whatever they plan next to display, and even the actors stop to remind each other it is time to update the signage.
Jack Studio is one of those venues easily missed, being that dreaded thing – south of the river. But its pedigree is such that it is worth an extra ten minutes on your journey when it can put on shows as enjoyable as this.
Original story by: HG Wells
Adapted by: Derek Webb
Directed by: Kate Bannister
Produced by: Jack Studio Theatre
Booking link: https://brockleyjack.co.uk/jackstudio-entry/the-invisible-man/
Booking until: 4 January 2020