Impressive Norwich Screwtape performance
2011: The Screwtape Letters is the latest production by the Saltmine Theatre Company. Here Mark Sims reviews the performance which he found both riveting and thought-provoking.
Review by Mark Sims
I had not read C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ before watching the stage version at The Playhouse in Norwich last night but after seeing this latest production by the Saltmine Theatre Company, I fully intend to. Written by Nigel Forde and in its third revival since debuting in 1993, it features a mostly young cast, spearheaded by the twitchy, professorial senior devil Screwtape (David Robinson). Screwtape tutors junior tempters Wormwood (Michael Taylor, also directing) and Slubgob (Jade Bonetta) in the dark art of damning human souls, in particular, that of a recent convert to Christianity, played by Matthew J. Sunners.
The packed house watched Screwtape dispense demonic wisdom to his two young charges under the watchful, critical eye of Grubslatter (Becky Townsend), a sort of internal (infernal?) affairs officer sent to monitor the senior devil’s activities. She gave him a run for his money in terms of menace; with her steady poise and domineering voice causing even Screwtape to nervously loosen his starched collar.
Most of the play took place inside Screwtape’s scholarly office (perhaps a stylistic nod to Lewis’ position at Oxford University?) which, rather than being removed to make way for new scenes, remained upstage as scenes of the junior devils at work in different locations occurred downstage. These were represented by different furniture, e.g. a pew for a church scene, as the tyro tempters were observed by their superiors behind them (or below, story-wise). A decision made for timing and budgetary reasons, perhaps but it nevertheless added a more interesting dimension to the proceedings.
In terms of the play’s themes, the depiction of the devils as subtle tempters, insidiously suggesting and playing on their victim’s own virtues to cause their downfall, was riveting and thought-provoking. I could not help but sympathise with Wormwood’s target at times in his struggle to persevere against off-putting demonic thoughts with a relatively straightforward act, like praying. The idea of cunning devils whispering in your ear, ‘not a case of putting bad thoughts in but keeping the good ones out’ to paraphrase Screwtape himself, is more believable and scarier than the evils presented by most horror films.
Also impressive was the fact that Saltmine gave away free programmes that were as slickly produced as any you would normally pay for, as well as the cast and crew meeting and greeting the audience in the foyer afterwards.