Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London – until 4 January 2020
Back in the 19th and early 20th century, there were two literary pillars – Jules Verne and H.G.Wells – who between them wrote many of the classic science fiction novels that we know today. As a writer, Wells was adept at many different genres, but what made him a household name was with the likes of The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau and War of the Worlds – plus a tale about a scientist with a penchant for bandages… Adapted by Derek Webb and directed by Kate Bannister, the latest production of The Invisible Man takes the familiar tale of Dr Griffin, who resides at the village of Iping to conduct “experimental investigations” in private.
Irascible by nature, Griffin (Shaun Chambers) rubs everyone up the wrong way. Mrs Hall (Matthew Parker) – the proprieter of The Coach & Horses Inn where Griffin stays – initially turns a blind eye to his behaviour. However, once the funds dry up, she changes her tune. And with rumours spreading through town that Griffin may be a criminal on the lam, all eyes view the bandaged Griffin with suspicion.
While the show stays true to the original plot and the characters are played ‘dead pan’, the vibe is very tongue-in cheek. It’s a tone that was honed and perfected in the West End production of The 39 Steps and in the case of this show, inspires the honouring of the source material, while fleshing out the ‘comic’ possibilities in a literary classic.
With Scott Oswald as the third cast member also playing a handful of roles, the 15-strong ‘ensemble’ are vividly and seamlessly brought to life. For each actor, there is at least one signature role (Dr Cuss – Oswald; Griffin – Chambers) while for Parker, his ‘Mrs Hall’ is the quintessential pantomime dame whose attitude, exaggerated posture and catchphrase of “Rely on it” (which depending on the circumstances can mean any number of things!) is guaranteed to have the audience in stitches.
For some people, a panto at Christmas is the one thing, while for others, more ‘serious’ fare is preferred. The Invisible Man manages to tap into the best of both worlds, bringing a modicum of seasonal mirth to a tale about the darker side of human nature.