Adapted and directed by Hailey McQueen
Clock & Spiel Productions
Corner of Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale
Season: 22 November – 10 December
Two demons are plotting in hell to draw their assigned humans on earth away from God. It seems this isn’t necessarily achieved by planting thoughts in human’s heads, but rather by keeping certain thoughts out. Distractions, irritations, everyday sameness and change – some of the few tactics employed to pull people away from what is truly important. Yannick Lawry plays Screwtape, the head honcho, and George Zhao plays Toadpipe, Screwtape’s junior demon in Hailey McQueen’s adaptation of CS Lewis’ novel.
CS Lewis’ writing is dense. Quite artful, but it requires thought to really suck the juices from the text. McQueen’s adaptation is hugely faithful to the text, understandable considering the renown of the text. However this presents some challenges on the stage. Lawry faces hefty chunks of letter dictation as Screwtape, aided by Zhao’s humorous physical interpretations. He does so with precision and charm, with the necessary specificity required when dealing with an avalanche of complex ideas. I wonder if the story could be better digested (especially by unsuspecting audience members) if the visual storytelling were augmented further and more liberty was taken from the text. Indeed, adaptation is tricky business.
Framed wonderfully by Isabella Andronos’ eerie set design, McQueen’s direction creates a strong sense of space, gifting the audience with a clear conception of hell – one that doesn’t look too estranged from a setting on earth. This notion is extended in Andronos’ costume design, where the demons we see don’t have pointy horns and a stereotypical devilish pitchfork, but rather are dressed impeccably well in a white suit and dress clothes – far more beguiling than the cliché.
There is a superb lightness found by McQueen and the cast in the show, through physical theatre and comedic value that proves to sustain audience engagement and warrant warm chuckles throughout. Zhao’s flurried miming, impersonations and chalkboard illustrations - all rooted in sublime physicality – bring a humorous touch to the piece consistently throughout. The music and sound design by Adam Jones is a fabulous addition, allowing the atmosphere to err on droll and playful rather than a fierce conniving of the demons. It is a touch of the unexpected which is far more interesting to explore.
Not everyone believes in the existence of the devil. This show presupposes his existence as reality. It reveals the intervention of demons in our lives to the extent of the banal, and vice versa, the response and actions of a God that loves the people he has created, and fights for them not to fall victim to the demons’ pernicious acts. If you are willing to remain open to this presupposition, the show is abundant with thought-provoking matter. And isn’t that what theatre is all about?