The Invisible Man

Sun 14th – Fri 19th August 2016

reviews

Laura Whetherly

at 13:25 on 17th Aug 2016

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What happens when you take a piece of late-19th century science fiction, throw it into a film-noir Chicago setting, and try to tell the story through the medium of puppetry? Blabbermouth Theatre’s adaption of HG Wells’ 'The Invisible Man' does just this, and the result is a solid and energetic performance, with a highly enthusiastic cast. There are, however, a few significant issues which really hold the show back from fulfilling its full potential; a safe but not spectacular show.

Told through a mixture of acting, physical theatre and music, 'The Invisible Man' questions what happens when somebody chooses to remove their image from the world, and why somebody would want to. Fans of Wells be warned; while the original novel takes place in the sleepy surroundings of a West Sussex Village, the Blabbermouth adaption abandons this in favour of a film-noir era Chicago, complete with trenchcoats, trilby hats and a rolling undercurrent of seedy jazz. For those familiar with the genre, there are plenty of allusions to enjoy, but this adaptation does lose the flavour and, to a great extent, plot of the original.

Although the sense of jazz-era US is well evoked by the lighting and costume, the performance is really let down by a very mixed bag of “Chicago” accents. When half of your cast are attempting a trans-Atlantic strangling of a southern accent, and the other half just aren’t bothering at all, changes need to be made if you want to hold your own at a professional level.

On the other hand, some of the physical theatre aspects of the performance were absolutely stunning; in particular, a sequence where the invisible man, depicted by a trenchcoat, gloves and hat skilfully manipulated by the cast, dances with the female lead, is beautifully put together. Despite this promise, there were other sequences where the cast’s movements (occasionally reduced to manic hand waving and chanting “cha, cha, cha”) over-powered the actual events on stage and failed to add anything to the performance as a whole.

A lot of thought has clearly gone into considering this as a whole production, rather than simply a play – the lighting, the costume and the music have been given careful attention. The cast clearly are talented, and, though some of the musical inserts feel a little contrived, the singing genuinely adds a lot to the atmosphere of the show.

The Invisible Man isn’t a bad play, and the young cast should be congratulated on producing an interesting reimaginging of this well-known novel. However, it has significant issues still, and until these are ironed out, this remains a solid, but not overly exciting, addition to the Fringe.

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Ed Grimble

at 09:52 on 18th Aug 2016

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How does one portray H. G. Wells’ Griffin (aka the Invisible Man) on stage? Eschewing the traditional long coat, gloves, and bandaged face, Blabbermouth Theatre opt for puppetry; Griffin’s coat and hat are manipulated by two on-stage ‘handlers’, whilst Harris MacPhearson provides a very competent voicing stood downstage left.

The emphasis on physicality and movement is continued throughout the performance. Swirling newspapers, that staple image of the pathetic fallacy of the mean streets at night, engulf Gus Griffin as he walks, and a scene where he dances with a young woman is masterfully tender and delicate. The volume and complexity of some of these physical theatre sequences are a credit to the ambition and dexterity of this young cast. There are, however, numerous instances where what should be slick and clear movements do descend into what appears to be aimless and disordered onstage business. I am sometimes left scratching my head trying to work out just what it is that the cast are actually trying to depict through their clumsy choreography.

The show’s heart is in its spatial and temporal recontextualising to the streets of Chicago, rather than the sleepy English village of Wells’ novella. I say ‘streets of Chicago’ because that is where the cast tell us that we are. The ham-fisted attempts at consistent accents suggest that the play instead crosses from the east to west coast, and from the northern to the southern states, as if in some Kerouacian frenzy.

What the group do do successfully though, is to both evoke and consistently lampoon the classic tropes of the film noir genre. All the boxes are ticket: the troubled detective, flocks of reporters, ref-faced bellowing accountancy bosses, smooth jazz- the list goes on. Indeed, the live musical accompaniment, a low saxophone that brings atmosphere in spades, is a touch of class. There is, however, a more than small whiff of style over substance in this play. The plot is uninspired, and the audience do struggle to invest themselves emotionally in the denouement. It is all a little rushed.

This is, then, a mixed bag of a production. The acting is of a solid order throughout, and the less said about the accent work the better. The group’s ambition in how they have chosen to inject the play with tough choreography, and also embark on a change of setting, is admirable, especially for a cast so clearly young. ‘The Invisible Man’ is let down by a pervading sense of clumsiness and lack of refinement- but this is still a competent and worthwhile production.

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