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The Invisible Man

This adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic novel relies too heavily on comedy and special effects.

By London
John Gordon Sinclair, Maria Friedman, and Natalie Casey
in The Invisible Man
(© Nobby Clark)
John Gordon Sinclair, Maria Friedman, and Natalie Casey
in The Invisible Man
(© Nobby Clark)
The Invisible Man, Ken Hill's adaptation of the H.G. Wells novella now at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is not a thing of subtlety, nor is it meant to be. The work is framed in the form of an Edwardian music hall performance, which allows for some exuberant overplaying on the part of the cast, and Ian Talbot's production fails to engage with the darker aspects of Wells' story and instead focuses almost entirely on the comic.

John Gordon Sinclair plays the mysterious bandage-swathed stranger who arrives in the West Sussex village of Iping seeking privacy to find the cure for his affliction. When strange things begin to happen around the village, the locals, including sharp-tongued inn keeper Mrs Hall (Maria Friedman) and the ditzy maid, Millie (Natalie Casey), initially believe they're dealing with a ghost.

Eventually they come to suspect the curious individual staying at the inn, who turns out to be a brilliant scientist named Griffin, who has developed his condition as the result of one of his own experiments gone awry. Their interference tips Griffin, who is already dangerously volatile, over the edge. Reluctantly aided by Thomas Marvel (Gary Wilmot) -- a "gentleman of the road" who also doubles as the show's narrator -- Griffin escapes and embarks on a murderous rampage.

Paul Kieve's stage illusions are well executed, and even in the intimate environs of the Menier they manage to give a sense of an invisible presence on stage. Doors fly open of their own accord, a glass of milk tips and appears to be drunk from, a bicycle rolls along the stage riderless and, in one particularly effective moment, a cigarette is smoked by unseen lips.

But the production relies on these effects too heavily and the sinister nature of the story is continually played down in favour of broad gags and pratfalls. Hill's Invisible Man seems to devote a lot of his energies to tweaking noses and slapping bottoms; at one point Mrs Hall's ample chest is manhandled by invisible hands.

Friedman pitches her performance well as does Jo Stone-Fewing, as the local Squire who's not as daft as he makes out, and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a pipe-smoking schoolteacher with whom Griffin feels an intellectual connection.

Unfortunately, there's a real issue with the pacing. The production moves forwards in fits and bursts and often repeats itself. Tonally things stay on the same level throughout and certain scenes cry out to be slicker and quicker. Even within the context of the music hall framing device, complete with intentionally rickety sets and fake snow, the textural flatness of the production is problematic. It has a degree of charm, but charm can only carry a show only so far.


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