Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: C.S. Lewis (adapted by Hailey McQueen)
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, George Zhao
Image by John Leung
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters follows the correspondences of senior demon, Screwtape, as he mentors his nephew Wormwood, who is learning the ropes of the devil’s business from his evil uncle. There is a “patient” in question, a case study if you will, and the heat is on, to lead him to temptation, and away from God. Contrary to popular belief that immorality is easy, the troublemakers have a difficult time, and we are challenged by notions of good and evil as they relate to our impulses and tendencies.
Having been adapted directly from Lewis’ writing, the play demonstrates that the efficacy of words is reliant on the context within which they are presented. At the theatre, we are not able to glance back at previous sentences, or look away to let meanings merge with imagination at a pace of the reader’s choosing. Words that had been designed for one purpose, might not necessarily translate conveniently for another, and in The Screwtape Letters, the challenge of adapting a novel for the stage, is bravely taken on by Hailey McQueen who also doubles as director. Although unable to repurpose the text entirely satisfactorily, McQueen delivers a charming show that holds appeal for those of us with a wicked streak .
It is a beautifully designed production, with Isabella Andronos’ set and costumes providing appropriate sharpness of style to Screwtape’s world of decadent luxury. Chris Page’s elegant lighting helps us move through scene transitions effectively, and his careful calibration of mood changes keeps us visually fascinated. Music and sound design by Adam Jones is very impressive. Much of how the audience responds and what it feels for The Screwtape Letters is controlled by Jones, who significantly elevates this theatrical experience with admirable precision and creativity. Actors Yannick Lawry and George Zhao are a well-rehearsed duo that puts on a presentation with professional polish. Zhao’s comic physical inventiveness is especially memorable. The two men are warm, likeable personalities, but we wish to see something much darker and menacing. We want the fiction to take us to a place unthinkably taboo, somewhere so close to hell that we can only react with the extremities of either being frightened away or helplessly seduced in, but Screwtape seems too much of a gentleman to afford us that pleasure.