“There’s something wrong with this…”
The Invisible Man is the Menier Chocolate Factory’s winter offering this year, following on from a healthy run of transfers including Sweet Charity, A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles. The main plot is taken from HG Wells’ story of a strange man swathed in bandages who arrives at a small village pub to take a room. It emerges that he is a scientist and a victim of an experiment gone wrong that has rendered him invisible and is seeking peace and quiet in order to come up with a cure. But the nosy villagers drive him mad and he snaps, seeking world domination instead. It has the makings of a chilling sci-fi story but wrapped up in an Edwardian music hall setting as it is here by Ken Hill, with Pierrot-based clown songs creating a vaudevillian mood as the ‘players’ perform the story as above, but full of a broad nudge-nudge-wink-wink bawdiness.
The music hall framing just seemed like an excuse to shoehorn in a song or two, as if the Menier couldn’t quite put on a Christmas show that didn’t feature singing, but it was a laboured device that grated with me every time it reappeared as it served to further diminish the impact of Wells’ story. Tonally, it remained at this broad, slapstick, pratfall-heavy level throughout which I must admit raised the rare chuckle but mostly left me cold. Because there was no attempt to give the storytelling any depth, I just didn’t care about anything even when the characters were the only people preventing society from collapsing entirely (I think) and with no variety in there, it just gets so damn repetitive: there’s only so much people pretending to be punched and bum tweaks that one can take.
And though Paul Kieve’s illusions were proficiently done for a fringe venue, none of them were so spectacular in the end (though I am not sure what would have actually impressed me) and they also suffered from repetition and a lack of variety. John Gordon Sinclair’s voice was the most effective tool that this production had, along with his eerie presence on the stage (his face not revealed until the bitter end) but even the chilling aspects here were negated by an over-reliance on ostensibly spooky music which quickly grew tiresome.
But when you have quality in your cast, it can’t help but occasionally shine through and there were moments here something more was hinted at. Jo Stone-Fewings as the local aristocrat with hidden depths and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a pipe-smoking Scottish schoolteacher had a great connection together with their burgeoning relationship, Christopher Godwin was nicely droll as a jack-of-all-trades and Maria Friedman’s bawdy hostess was also well-pitched. But there was also hamminess, sometimes just about ok as in Gerard Carey’s camp vicar, but Natalie Casey’s dim maid was a screechy mess which had me cringing and I didn’t react well to Gary Wilmot’s faux bonhomie and his constant breaking of the fourth wall to remind us, as if we could forget, of the music hall setting.
It was a bit of a random decision for me to go to see The Invisible Man. I had tickets for much earlier in the run but managed to offload them to a friend so I could attend another engagement and the feedback that they and others gave led me to think I had dodged a bullet somewhat. But it is easy to have an opinion that isn’t backed up and so in some respects I am glad that I took the time to see this for myself, even if it was to confirm reports of a painfully unfunny turkey.