FRINGE: Misery – Theatre – Higher Ground – 4K

After a successful and critically acclaimed season at the Bakehouse in July last year, Michael Allen’s production of Stephen King’s Misery returns to the Adelaide stage, giving Fringe audiences an opportunity to catch this quality home-grown production as part of the Centre for International Theatre program.

Waking after a car crash in the American countryside, author Paul Sheldon (John Maurice) finds himself at the mercy of Annie Wilkes (Joanne Hartstone), his self-professed number one fan.  Annie is, quite clearly, more than a little unhinged, and the smallest things can cause her to shift between intense love and deep hatred for Paul. When the hatred and anger take hold, Paul invariably suffers. One of the major causes of Annie’s ire is the revelation that Paul has killed off her favourite character, Misery Chastain, in his latest novel and she decides that he will work every day to produce a new book in which she is resurrected. Can Annie’s desire ever be full assuaged though and will Paul manage to escape her clutches either mentally or physically intact?

Despite a few opening performance technical issues and the ubiquitous audience mobile phone interruption (seriously people, turn them off!) both actors keep their characterisations strong and steady throughout. From the moment she steps on the stage, Hartstone’s creepy portrayal of Annie has you shrinking back in your seat. While the character could not be described as sane at any point during the play, Hartstone manages to reign in the crazy enough at various times to make her seem frighteningly believable rather than outlandishly implausible. Maurice gives a measured decent into desperation as the trapped Paul, which nicely compliments Annie’s psychotic mania.

While incredibly chilling and gruesome at times, there is also a lot of humour in the script of Misery and this production captures both sides of the action. Not one for the faint of heart, and a bit longer than most Fringe offerings at the more traditional play run time of over two hours (with interval), this is never-the-less a quality and entertaining production and definitely worth escaping the house for a few hours.

Kryztoff rating: 4K

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