The Screwtape Letters – at the Park Theatre Ends 7 Jan 2017
There are real moments of subtle terror in this piece. Which will have you reconsidering your part in any Christmas blow-up argument. Offering a reflective opportunity to see how our own light and subtle accidents of behaviour can be caught. The letters are as much about the fragile product of an awakening and how easily those first thoughts can be distracted from crystalising. Simply imagine the colonisation of every moment through Social Media or every bit of creativity exported through media channels of advertising and popular culture that serves consumption the ratcheting up of desire in young minds today and you can see the serious existential and embodied insight of the Screwtape Letters.
This American production favours pace over the digressions and tangents in the original text. Looking to serve up the two narrative arcs of Screwtape and the slow awakening conscience of the new Christian.
This methodology of keeping the pace I guess works for American audiences and cinema adaptations, thought I think Brits may naturally be attracted to the diversions and mental acrobatics you would find in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker Guide to the galaxy. Finding extra pleasure in realising just how far they’d let themselves be lead a stray might have added to the production. I bring this up as the Donnish quality and quasi Oxford setting of the Screwtape letters and its mid 20th century period, in which C.S.Lewis creating the letters. This would draw a closer parallel to the observations that a man whose life’s work is the close observation of minds life… The knowing of the faults and wanderings of a mind, the loss of a crucial argument, to a distraction, the incomplete forgotten assignments… the hard return to a essay gone cold.
There’s potential for an interpretation of the work through a lens of George Orwells 1984 or psychological spy and propaganda wars.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this is an American flavored production, so that Screwtape as the quality and texture of an American tycoon or lobbyist dressed up in a worldly mismash of European luxuries. This screwtape is full of more bombast than I’d expected, which serves aa a high contrast to when later as this devils machinations go servely awry.
The production certainly whets the appetite, particularly in the speedier 2nd half of the play, where the war adds a speed and peril to the shifting life of the ‘patients’ soul. There are plenty of lighting effects and intriguing props that might easily belong to a serial killer, occulted within the boney structure of the stage, much reminiscent of the famed Czech Sedlec Ossuary.
On the night the performance seemed to take half an hour to warm up. This might be over familiarity with the material, which has run on and off for 10 years?
Screwtapes assistant Toadpipe – originally given only a passing reference in the letters has been creatively used as a comic foil and a visualiser for what would be a slightly static monolgue. Toadpipe is sometimes like an Ariel from the Tempest, sometimes like a comic mime full of nervous animal enegry.
I’d enjoy extra comic interludes from this character, going off piste introducing more original content. Its a bit of a risk, but worth animating the play. Perhaps introducing the an acted part for the embryonic Christian… Which again could allow for additional physical comedy from the roles interpretation.
Ends 7 Jan 2017