The Screwtape Letters, Park Theatre, review: ‘Human frailty exposed by Satanic cunning

08:00 21 December 2016

The Screwtape Letters. Picture: Joan Marcus

The Screwtape Letters. Picture: Joan Marcus

Archant

CS Lewis’ 1942 novel the Screwtape Letters has enjoyed a cult following with occasional revivals ever since.

CS Lewis is best remembered for his Chronicles of Narnia, but his 1942 novel the Screwtape Letters has enjoyed a cult following with occasional revivals ever since.

We are in hell: in the grand ossuary that serves as the office of His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, a devil’s advocate.

His business is simple: to lure humans to damnation so he and his colleagues can consume them.

This augmented monologue is a wonderfully animated rehearsal of a series of letters from Screwtape to his rather dim witted nephew and trainee tempter, Wormwood.

He offers advice, insights and reflections on the weak spots of humans, their foibles, hypocrisies and cant.

Max Mclean who adapts and also plays Screwtape is incredibly impressive over eighty minutes of word perfect, assured and faintly threatening delivery, bringing just the right civilised matter-of-factness that thinly disguises the evil intent of the whole subterranean operation.

His constant companion is the fantastical creature, Toadpipe played with a fluidity, humour and grotesqueness by Karen Eleanor Wright.

His birdlike secretary, pet, clerk, semaphore and factotum anticipates and mirrors his moves, mimes his speeches and amplifes his rages.

Written less than thirty years after the appearance of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Lewis presents Screwtape with a complete understanding of human behaviour and motivation.

He describes how to subvert humans in the context of gluttony, faith, love, war, time wasting, intellect and, in a weird anticipation of celebrity culture, the vacuous light entertainers of the day.

The lighting, sound and set are near perfect. A pneumatic tube connects hell to the human world and the lithe Toadpipe scurries up a ladder to send letters to Wormwood.

Despite the thiness of the narrative the duo manage to captivate and draw us into this exposition of human weakness. Recommended for those wanting something more challenging than Mother Goose this Christmas.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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