Friday, October 14, 2005

Misery Guts - You Betcha!

The latest spine-tingling stage production to hit London proves that live on stage just can't be beaten. Even if Cathy Bates is nowehere to be seen...

There's always an element of danger involved when watching the stage adaptation of your favourite film. Chances are, you're going to come out disappointed with "that's not the way it happens" and "they don't look like THAT" resounding in your head. When it's a Stephen King thriller, the risk is even higher... but Simon Moor's 'Misery' proved to impress perhaps the film's most ardent fan. My boyfriend came out in a rare state of silence. The verdict? "Disturbingly impressive".

Stephen King's 1987 suspense novel 'Misery' was first adapted for the big screen and promptly won an Oscar. Cathy Bates sent chills down movie-goers' spines and proved that she is a very hard act to follow. The re-creation of the progressively manic personality of Annie Wilkes and her arrogant but defenceless victim, best selling author Paul Sheldon was a job for the pros. And that is exactly what we were treated to. Susan Penhaligon's disturbing and engaging performance sends shivers down the spine - no matter how resilient you are. A glance at her pre-performance programme photograph reveals her astounding transformation into the unattractive, frumpy Annie Wilkes. Definitely the star of the show, she commands the nervous insecurities of the audience - both on and off stage. Michael Praed plays the bed-ridden best selling author of the Misery series. A man crippled by a car crash and worse still, the obsession of his fan.

There was barely a second that the two-strong cast didn't have us riveted. Praed convincing in his bed-ridden character's anguish and Penhaligon scaring the wits out of the whimpering inner child in us all. The strangely perverse cat and mouse magnetism of the two, added to the feelings of discomfort. Prepare for the unsettling silences, broken only by the manic clicking noises that resound from the mad-woman's throat. A blowtorch, a sledge hammer, a little dead body and a fire or two prove that there's no holding back on confrontation. Sometimes it's not what you see but what you hear that is most disturbing and the ragged charisma of the King's Head provides the perfect dank backdrop for such a dark performance.

The performance is obviously shaped more on the book than it is on the film. It is definitely not one for the children, or for the faint-hearted. But if a good night of bone-chilling suspense, blood and mystery is your thing then this is for you. Fan or Stephen King virgin, it is a great night's entertainment provided by two bona-fida masters of the stage. A brush with two stars in such an intimate environment is not an opportunity to be missed or forgotten.

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