HG Wells’ The Invisible Man review at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – ‘awkwardly underwritten’
There’s one big problem with reworking The Invisible Man for the theatre. See if you can spot it. No, it’s him. Over there.
Ironically enough, though, realising the eponymous anti-hero of HG Wells’ 1897 sci-fi novella on stage is the least of this adaptation’s troubles.
Ryan McBryde’s production has a certain ghoulish, gaslight charm, assisted by Lily Arnold’s richly decorated, rolling-stock set, Nic Farman’s pantomime-villain lighting and Rebecca Applin’s throwback thriller score. Kudos too to magic consultant John Bulleid, even if you can see the strings a mile off.
The show is hamstrung, however, by a thoroughly undercooked script. Adaptor Clem Garritty sticks relatively close to Wells’ narrative but plays around with the structure, jumping between town and country and moving backwards and forwards in time – between pre- and post-op Invisible Man – to tell the story of Jack Griffin and his radical experiments with refraction.
The dialogue is paper-thin (at one point, Matthew Spencer’s passionate, paranoid Griffin actually tells us he’s a mad genius), the plotting becomes ragged as it stumbles towards a conclusion and the characters are, well, entirely translucent, despite the lively efforts of McBryde’s eight-strong cast.
It’s ultimately never clear whether this is a sideways send-up of Victorian horror or an inept attempt to say something profound about the human condition. Bits about homelessness and the Suffragette movement – different forms of invisibility – are haphazardly thrown in without consequence, and you’re really never quite sure what you’re looking at.