Alan Paris and Isabel Warrington in Misery. Photo: Justin Mamo
“I am your number one fan.” It’s wonderful how this seemingly innocuous phrase is imbued with menace in William Goldman’s stage adaptation of Misery.
Based on the Stephen King eponymous classic, Misery is being staged by Masquerade at Blue Box at M Space, and sees Alan Paris taking on the role of the spectacularly unlucky writer Paul Sheldon, while Isabel Warrington plays Annie Wilkes, the suspiciously devoted nurse who rescues him from a car crash in the Colorado wilderness. From then on, things take a sinister turn.
Much like last week’s In Other Words, Misery is the kind of play where success depends largely on the chemistry between the two lead actors. The narrative itself is very basic. Paul slowly realises that he’s at Annie’s mercy, trapped in her cabin, while Annie becomes more and more unhinged. Things eventually reach a horrific climax. In classic Stephen King style, it’s the dialogue and the character interplay that do most of the heavy lifting.
I know Warrington as a delightful comedic actor, but this production sees her taking on the role of a psychopath with almost worrying authenticity. Warrington’s role is the one that carries the most dialogue, but it is her sheer presence that evokes the strongest sense of dread, whether she’s hovering in a corridor or smiling manically at the hapless Paul. She cuts a terrifying figure without saying one word, and this is a skill that few actors possess.
The way Warrington inhabits the skin of Nurse Annie is wonderfully natural, with simple mannerisms such as twirling the edge of her cardigan or even her gait and posture accentuating the fact that something’s seriously off with this woman. The character requires continuous personality switches between fawning fan and deranged sadist, and again Warrington carries it off seamlessly without losing any of the sense of menace that permeates her entire performance.
Paris is her worthy counterpart, creating a complicated Paul whose dry sarcasm elicits nervous titters even when things are at their most tense, while matching Warrington’s physicality magnificently. The audience is mesmerised as he grunts and moans his way through the first act. We watch him dragging himself across the stage, his legs hanging behind him uselessly, and we thoroughly believe that this is a man whose body is broken. Incidentally, kudos to make-up as it plays a huge part in rendering both characters believable.
Masquerade’s Misery – One Significant Flaw
Stephen Oliver ably directs a very physical production, with Paris and Warrington using movement and mannerisms almost more than dialogue to communicate with the audience. Warrington’s eye work, coupled with her high-pitched laughter, is genuinely horrific. Likewise, Paris is just as expressive with a mere gaze as he is with his dry quips.
The production does come with one significant flaw, and that is the staging. The revolving stage, which is used to show the audience what is happening in different rooms, is not best suited for this particular space. It would have worked beautifully in a bigger theatre, but the layout at Blue Box is such that a considerable section of the audience (particularly those on the left-hand side facing the stage) could not see what was happening during various crucial scenes.
Moreover, the physicality of the piece is at times larger than the space available – there were soup and wine spills that left at least two audience members quite unamused. Another issue is that the sightlines weren’t respected, and I could see the crew handing out props to the actors or even just walking backstage multiple times, which kind of messes with my suspension of disbelief.
Other than these logistical elements, Masquerade’s Misery is a gripping production that is very powerfully executed. Paris and Warrington deliver a compelling performance that is likely to haunt a few dreams if you’re of a susceptible bent. Victor Debono also holds his own well in the secondary role of sheriff.
Absolutely unmissable for those who are into Stephen King novels or horror in general. Misery shows on February 23, 24, 25, 26, at Blue Box at M Space, Msida.