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Gods and Monsters

Will Austin and Ian Gelder in Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Tristram Kenton Will Austin and Ian Gelder in Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Russell Labey, also represented in London by a revival of his musical adaptation of Mary Hayley Bell’s Whistle Down the Wind that predated Lloyd Webber’s and is far superior, comes up trumps again with a vivid, alluring adaptation of Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein.

It also previously formed the basis of a 1998 Oscar-winning film that starred the Oscar-nominated Ian McKellen as James Whale, the real-life British film director most famous for directing Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, a fictionalised version of whose life story is presented here. So there’s a lot of back story, and the show has Whale revisiting a wartime tryst with a fellow soldier that shaped his life.

But Labey also gives it a forward momentum as it shows him living out his life in lonely retirement, supported only by a housekeeper Maria played with a delightful practicality by Lachele Carl, who solicits the company of his buffed-up gardener Clayton and manages to persuade him to be a life-model for his paintings.

The superb Ian Gelder portrays the predatory loneliness of Whale with acute sensitivity and longing, and stage newcomer Will Austin has the jaw-dropping musculature to not only transfix him but also, it seems, most of the audience. Labey’s production offers generous views of him with and without his shirt on. There’s also terrific support from Will Rastall and Joey Phillips in a variety of other roles.

  • Southwark Playhouse, London
  • February 5-March 7, PN February 10
  • Authors: Russell Labey, Christopher Bram novel
  • Director: Russell Labey
  • Design: Jason Denver set/costume, Mike Robertson lighting, John Chambers sound/composer, Louise Rhoades-Brown projection
  • Technical: David Warwick production manager, Danielle Tarento casting director
  • Cast: Ian Gelder, Will Austin, Lachele Carl, Will Rastall, Joey Phillips
  • Producers: Danielle Tarento, Jason Haigh-Ellery
  • Running time: 2hrs 10mins

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A full-frontal (in every sense) stage version of a layered, fractured story about a man coming to terms with his past
Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton is a theatre critic. He was a regular columnist and associate editor of The Stage until 2019.