Posts Tagged ‘Joey Phillips’

This new play, like the 1998 film of the same name, is based on Christopher Bram’s book Father of Frankenstein, a novel whose central character was real life film director James Whale, responsible for a whole bunch of iconic horror films as well as the film of the musical Showboat. The fact it’s a fiction that purports to speculate and recreate the final days of someone who actually lived doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, though I much admired the production and the performances.

Whale’s story is a fascinating one. The son of a Dudley labourer who studied art before serving in the army in WWI, ending up in a prisoner of war camp where his interest in drama began. On his return, multi-tasking in the theatre, he ended up directing Journey’s End, which took him to the US – first Broadway, then Hollywood, where his film career started with the film of the same play. He lived with his male partner for over 20 years, but the play begins after he’s left and Whale is alone with his maid Maria, in poor physical and mental health, close to death, returning to art once more. From here, it speculates that he becomes a bit predatory, first with a student interviewer and then with the gardener. His early life painting and his war experiences are shown in flashback.

It’s exceptionally well staged, with well integrated projections and highly effective flashbacks. The acting is outstanding, led by Ian Gelder’s excellent performance as Whale. Will Austin and Joey Phillips make hugely impressive professional stage debuts as the gardner Clayton and student Kay respectively, with the latter also the young Whale in flashback. Lachele Carl beautifully captures both Maria’s love and affection for her boss and disapproval of his lifestyle and Will Rastall completes the cast as Whale’s doctor and the wartime Whale. Jason Denvir’s simple design allows the play to breathe whilst Russell Labey directs his own play with great delicacy.

I would have preferred pure fiction or pure biography (though impossible, I suspect), but there’s no denying this is première league theatre; quality in every department.


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