★★★★★ | Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse

It’s the late 1950s and ageing Hollywood director, James Whale, best known for his iconic Frankenstein films, is languishing in his Los Angeles house.

Whale is incapacitated by a series of strokes that have left him frail and prone to crippling headaches, dark moods and memory lapses. In spite of his infirmity, he hasn’t lost any of his impish ways with young men, persuading them to swim in his pool or pose naked for portraits. Old habits die hard. Unashamedly gay in an era of repression, Whale is a singular and striking personality. Enter pneumatically muscular new gardener, Clayton Boone who becomes the object of Whale’s lust and an unlikely player in the final drama of his life.

Whale’s life is told in a series of flashbacks that happen alongside the on-going drama; portraying the story of his childhood in a working-class family in Dudley through his horrific World War One experiences to his Hollywood career.

The play is based on the 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein written by Christopher Bram. The the same source material was used for the 1998 Oscar-winning film, “Gods And Monsters”, starring Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave and Brendan Fraser. The story works as well as a stage play also.

In terms of script, performance and production values this is a triumphant piece of theatre. Seasoned actor, Ian Gelder is magnificent as Whale. His performance hits a fine balance between comedy and tragedy and is subtly nuanced. The script is tight and in spite of the intensity of the subject matter the play never drags and is filled with finely written comedic moments. Excessively muscled newcomer Will Austin takes on the role of Boone with a surprisingly fine performance. He manages to portray a man with unexpected depths with gentle empathy and sensitivity.

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The intimate space of Southwark Playhouse and the cunning lighting, sound and set design add extra dimensions to the performance also. I must also mention that the play contains male nudity (if the fine acting and script doesn’t grab your attention then three different male nudes might).

This really is a stand out production in London theatre and a must see.

Buy tickets here: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/gods-and-monsters/