Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A misery to happily wallow in

Tough love: Patrick Richmond-Ward as writer Paul Shelton  and Liz Plumpton as backwoods psycho Annie Wilkes.


Sutton Arts Theatre


EVERY now and again you come across a production which harnesses the power of theatre, which holds audiences in its thrall, which creates another world beyond that fourth wall.

Sutton Arts have managed that with Misery and, unusually, the first thing you notice is the set, designed by Richard Aucott, which is superb. This is a run-down cabin using every inch of stage and, with no curtain, by the time the play starts they audience can already imagine the isolation, dirt roads and wilderness outside – probably with some odd looking bloke playing Duelling Banjos on a dilapidated porch far in the distance.

Indeed the technical side of this production deserves credit from imaginative sound effects and haunting Delta Blues between scenes to every trick in the book from the lighting department from strobing for the more gruesome and violent bits, stormy lightning, and even pulsing lights mirroring the despair and pain of writer Paul Shelton, all designed by David Ashton and Richard Pardoe-Williams, the latter also being responsible for the opening video projection.

Against all that are two big performances from Patrick Richmond-Ward as writer Paul Shelton  and the simply magnificent Liz Plumpton as Annie Wilkes.

Annie is sanity challenged as the PC enforcers might have it – for the rest of us she is several egg and cress sandwiches,  a couple of slices of pork pie – the sort with a boiled egg in the middle -and at least a couple of squashed buns and half a flask of stewed, lukewarm tea short of a picnic. Mad as a whole factory of hatters in fact.

From the neck down her sexuality is at the lumberjack-stevedore end of feminine charm; wake up next to her and you would be lucky – lucky to wake up that is – and would certainly never again touch what you were throwing down your neck the night before. She gives scary a bad name.

Liz Plumpton gives a memorable performance as the unstable number one fan Annie Wilkes

Paul Shelton meanwhile is a slightly pompous, ever so smug writer of holiday reading, airport fiction, Victorian romantic novels centered on his character Misery Chastain. He has it all. Fame, wealth and a huge following. Having finished his latest tome he has celebrated with a bottle of champagne and then set off driving through the mountains only to crash in a snowstorm where he is rescued, unconscious, by our local mountain nutter Annie.

Not only is our Annie as unstable as a drunk on skates she is also Paul Shelton's biggest fan, a fan to the point of obsession – remember fan derives from fanatic - and with Paul unable to walk and bedbound it doesn't take a GCSE  A* in the bleedin' obvious to work out he may just have a hint of a problem on his hands.

And the problem gets worse when Annie discovers his new novel is not only not about Misery but is  littered with profanity, devastating her God-farin' sensibilities;  and when the latest Misery novel reaches Annie and the mountainfolk in paperback its plot is enough to tip Annie even closer to the edge.

The play, adapted by Simon Moore, is based on Stephen King's 1987 novel ,which had to distinction of being made into a hit film, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, and an off Broadway play at the same time. It is a two-hander which is a challenge for both actors and audience and this pair met it head on and won hands down.

We could feel Paul's pain and fear as he found himself trapped in his own mountain nightmare but it was Liz Plumpton who stole the honours with a performance that deserves to be seen.

She clumps around the stage in huge boots – apart from Christmas when the frilly slippers come out – switching between sweet girl innocent charm and psychopathic personification of evil with the change triggered by a word, a gesture or for all we know, the direction of the wind.

Patrick Richmond-Ward has an uncomfortable night as writer Paul Shelton   

A misplaced laugh, a careless comment or a perceived slight can send her into a violent rage, a fury or an explosion of brutal sarcasm. Paul is left walking on eggshells just to survive unable to even guess how she will react to anything.

But control comes from having something the other person desperately wants, in Paul's case it is freedom and a return to civilisation - and the morphine based pain killers he has become addicted to - in Annie's case it is the conclusion of the latest Misery novel  she has forced Paul to write. For the first time in the strange relationship he has real power over her.

Liz Plumpton bestrides the stage like a colossus. She keeps control of her character from beginning to end, from the matter of fact asides that suggest that her nursing care is usually fatal, to her frighteningly ordinary seeming childhood and mundane life. Yet beneath the ordinary mountain Annie she gives us a malevolent force, made more scary by the fact it is so understated and she makes it all sound so normal.

True she explodes, terrifyingly at times, but it is in the quiet, gentle admonishments or, in her mind, reasonable explanations of what must happen that she is most dangerous, when the the real madness beyond reason and beyond the rage and anguish comes to the surface.

 It is a measured and quite magnificent performance in an excellent production skillfully directed by Claire Armstrong Mills which is well worth seeing. It might sit among the amateur reviews but Misery could happily hold its place in the professional ranks. To 10-11-12.

Roger Clarke  

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