Writer/Adaptor: Simon Moore
Director: Andrew Lynford
Reviewer: Jenni Dixon
Adapted from Stephen King’s 1987 psychological thriller novel, Misery is brought to the stage in a two-handed play with Rebecca Wheatley (best known for her receptionist rôle in Casualty) and Philip Bulcock. To give some perspective to those who do not know the story and history of it, the novel was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1988 and was later made into a Hollywood film and an off-Broadway play of the same name.
Paul Sheldon (Bulcock) is an author of a series of best-selling novels in which the heroine is called Misery Chastaine. After writing a new crime novel in the hotel room he always writes his first drafts in and against his better judgement, he drunkenly attempts to drive to Los Angeles. His car crashes in bad weather and he’s left pretty much for dead as the snow piles up until, Annie Wilks (Wheatley), a former nurse rescues him and takes him back to her house to aid his recovery. Paul eventually realises that Annie isn’t quite the caring Samaritan he would have hoped for. She keeps him in pain, argues with him about his awful new manuscript and can’t cope when she reads his final “Misery” novel where he kills off the main character. She leaves him half dead before demanding he burns the manuscript and writes a new Misery instalment. More punishment ensues and Paul begins to understand the severity of the character he has been held captive by, a serial killer to all intents.
The audience are introduced to Paul as he gives his acceptance speech for a literary award, then the accident happens through an audio medium and the stage is lit to reveal Annie’s house. Centre stage is the bed where Sheldon is confined for the most part and depth is given to the set with only the outline to the walls and doors used, so that two rooms and the hallway can be seen. The props lend themselves to help set the era and Central America. The lighting keeps the dark tone and creepy feel to Annie’s house and if there can be such a thing as psychotic mood lighting then this play has it.
Rebecca Wheatley gives the most amazing performance and never once falters on her accent or physical demeanour. She is awkward and disturbed from the get go and more of Annie’s past and reason for behaviour is exposed as the play evolves. Wheatley gave a totally encompassing performance. Philip Bulcock gives an equally solid performance; however there seemed to be something missing. There appeared to be a lack of desperation or fear in his portrayal of Sheldon and the frightening situation he finds himself in. If this was due to his drugged state induced by Wilks, then this was lost in translation also.
Despite tension building musical interludes used for scene changes and background effects to build on the intensity of dialogue, this too lacked something. As the performance culminates, the horror and tension between the characters turns almost slapstick. The struggles between Annie and Paul to kill or be killed were slightly clumsy and brought on groans of laughter from the audience. It was hard to decipher whether this was the intention or not. From an otherwise really fantastically acted adaptation, the last 15 minutes really let it down. It may be difficult for those who are King fans of both the book and film not to compare and perhaps be disappointed but despite the uneasy ending, it’s hard not to be astounded by Rebecca Wheatley’s clever performance.