Years back, before the 1998 film starring Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser, Andrew, for some reason, was given the task of reading a pile of film scripts. Among the dross only one stood out, it turned out to be Gods and Monsters. Unsurprisingly Andrew accompanied Phil to the Southwark Playhouse for this one.
That Oscar-winning script by Bill Condon was based on Christopher Bram‘s Father of Frankenstein, a novel which is now the basis for Russell Labey’s play concerning the partly fictionalised life and lusts of James Whale, director of the iconic 1931 Frankenstein, not to mention Bride of Frankenstein and the 1936 Showboat.
Set in the 1950s, Whale (Ian Gelder) is now retired and has suffered a series of strokes, spending his days at the easel, convincing attractive young men to drop their pants and pose for his more artistic strokes. Dodgy.
An enthusiastic fan (Joey Phillips) comes to interview Whale and is goaded into discarding various items of clothing in return for answering particular questions. Questionable.
But it is Whale’s straight gardener, Clayton Boone (Will Austin) with whom the director gradually forms the strangest of relationships. Does Boone possess the body flaunted before us by attending a gym or is it created from endless hours trimming his privet? Phil intends to get out in his garden this weekend to find out. He’ll get back to you with the results.
Labey’s production, annoyingly staged with the audience on 3 sides, does afford a good close up view (depending on where you are sitting) of some on stage omelette-eating and a gorgeous fifties iced tea pitcher. You thought we were going to say something else there didn’t you? Go on admit it!
But it wasn’t the genital dangling that disturbed Phil; he found himself strangely distracted by a label which hung beneath one of the chairs. And where we happened to sit enabled us to view what Gelder was sketching. Let’s just say he’s not exactly Ian Kelly in The Pitman Painters. But then he’s not meant to be.
Phil felt himself strangely in tune with Whale when he discovers that there are serious gaps in education. One of Whale’s lads had never heard of Journey’s End (a play Whale originally directed). At a pub quiz last week Phil found his twenty something teammates had never seen the film Cabaret or heard of donkey jackets or even Sir John Gielgud. Tsk!
There’s a few good laughs from the often smart dialogue and the decidedly uncomfortable situations Whale puts people in, though with Act 1 at 1 hour 20 minutes there are several longuers. The interval timing is strange; Act 2 is only half an hour. But the performances – especially from Gelder – are strong throughout. Lachele Carl as Whale’s long-suffering housekeeper and Will Rastall in various roles including a doctor and a young Whale in World War 1 flashbacks complete the cast.
A warning about nudity and strobe lighting is posted outside the auditorium, yet there was nothing warning Andrew about his particular bête noire, a lot of bare feet on display. Given that Phillips and Austin are making their professional stage debuts, they throw themselves into it and their clothes off with aplomb.
If you wish to find your inner Whale by ogling male flesh and a pair of nipples you could string a hammock between, Hot Bods and Monsters might just be the thing for you.