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Review: Misery, Royal Court

When an obsessed fan gets you in a compromising position, be scared. Heather Smith is suitably spooked....

Published on June 18th 2008.

Review: Misery, Royal Court

YOU may have chuckled or chortled at the Royal Court recently, but after what seems to have been never ending comedy, the theatre starkly delivers Misery, a drama; a stern, serious and spooky on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller, and guess what? It’s brilliant.

It takes a great acting effort to simultaneously play the madwoman and the young maid we are meant to bereave, and Kempson nails it.

Andrew Schofield and Joan Kempson star in a stage adaptation, made for two, from one of the better-acclaimed Stephen King novels.

Best-selling romantic fictional writer of the “Misery Chastain” books, Paul Sheldon (Andrew Schofield) wakes up, following a horrific car crash in the snow, bed-bound in the home of one-time nurse come fanatical fan, Annie Wilkes (Joan Kempson). Alone in Annie’s isolated house, Sheldon must undo the death of his book’s fictional character in order to ensure his own real-life continues.

Simon Moore wrote this stage version of Misery almost ten years ago, not that you’d guess as there are many times when you feel jokes have been put in especially for Schofield to forward, and these, with the help of Noreen Kershaw’s direction, are jeered along by the ever-trusty Royal Court audience.

Thanks to Moore’s script however, Kempson just manages to steal the show, her role, providing wild yet witty ramblings, often provoking great empathy despite hers being the character we are encouraged to despise. Kathy Bates, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film, played the role brilliantly. It takes a great acting effort to simultaneously play the madwoman and the young maid whom we are meant to bereave, and Kempson nails it.

She is as soft yet as haunting as Bates, managing almost effortlessly to catch the complexity of the character, balancing the control she has over Sheldon without ever giving much away of her own clearly terrible troubles. “Misery is what I like,” she screams.

Remembering the block of the flats that created the brave, rave-reviewed set for On the Ledge last month, it is hard not to give credit to this: a terrific fully-functioning 3D rotating house complete with true-looking trees both in the garden and in the distance. It is perhaps Helen Fownes-Davies’set that distracts the viewer from the fact that, for two and a half hours, Schofield’s and Kempson’s are the only feet to walk the stage. Schofield does particularly well manoeuvring his wheelchair in and out of its doors.

The weather, from the blizzard-bringing snow to the heavy blues-filled rain to the glorious summer sunshine, managed to - with the help of many special lighting and sound effects - remind us of just how long Sheldon was subject to imprisonment with Wilkes.

Filled with the dark humour of King’s more successful works, Misery captures the best bits from both the original book and Rob Reiner’s 1990 film. Schofield’s Paul Sheldon, the Champagne-sipping, twice-divorced smooth talker, is superbly sarcastic whilst Kempson’s Annie Wilkes is caringly creepy enough to outstay her welcome in your head afterwards. The notorious ‘hobbling’ scene here sends a shiver up the spine. Was the end going to be thrilling enough to match that of both the book and the film? Perhaps not, however a nice twist cleverly leaves you with the impression that the finale was more thrilling than it probably was.

As ever at the Royal Court you can arrive early and, for an extra tenner, get your grub served before the show courtesy of the award winning Liverpool Food Company. Expect Pork a la Misery plus a veggie option while this show is running, and let me assure you, there’s nothing whatsoever miserable about the pork, or indeed the performance.

After a standing ovation, the crowd, quite content, were piling out, excited, re-laying their favourite bits to one another. Not surprising really, Joan Kempson and Andrew Schofield (is there anything this man can’t do?!) pull out all the stops in Misery, bringing a classic thriller - perhaps one of the best - to a scouse stage for ’08. Be sure to catch it while you can.

Misery, Royal Court, Roe Street, until Sat, 5th July. Tickets: £10 - £20. Tel: 0870 787 1866 or book online www.royalcourtliverpool.co.uk

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

LisaJune 18th 2008.

My partner and I went to see Misery last night and it was amazing, the actors were fantastic and I would love to see it again. The stage was brilliant and I have to admit I nearly jumped out of my seat a couple of times. If you haven't been to see it yet, you really should. I know my partner and I will remember it for a long time.

John MullenJune 18th 2008.

Just been to see the show this afternoon and all I can say is brilliant! Both actors pull this off and the stage set was also impressive.Recommended.

AnonymousJune 18th 2008.

Alex, you'll have to let us know what you think of Misery after you have seen it.

AlexJune 18th 2008.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with the praise for Andrew Schofield. I'm not watching this play until the closing night and I wasn't originally certain that I wanted to see it. However, Schofield has been exceptional in everything I've ever seen him in and that was the reason I bought tickets before even reading a review.Why is he not on TV every week? I can only assume that it is his choice to perform on stage rather than screen.

AlexJune 18th 2008.

This play definitely worked. Great performances and a very good revolving set. Some very precise timing was required with Schofield having to manouevre his wheelchair just before his 'nurse' passed through doors to catch him out.One grumble though. This is the 3rd time I've been to the Royal Court this year and the audience seems to be different from the nearby Empire or Playhouse. When watching 'Brick Up', the second act was delayed while an altercation in the audience was resolved and whilst watching 'On the Ledge', I was threatened with violence after requesting that someone ceased his regular outbursts. On Saturday, around 8 people interrupted the second act by returning late, someone behind waited until after the resumption to start devouring what sounded like the largest bag of chocolates in the world and a couple of mobiles went off. This must be the 'scallies' theatre in Liverpool. Disappointing!

AnonymousJune 18th 2008.

I agree with what has been said about Drew Schofield, he is just sensational in Misery and it's nice to see him doing a serious role for a change after all the comedy of the last few years.

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