The God of Hell
Reviewed – 13th July 2017
“A powerful performance from Helen Foster”
Followers of American Sam Shepard, once described as ‘the greatest American playwright of his generation’ will be aware of his prolific work that has spanned over half a century. For those less aware, he has written over forty plays including The God of Hell, described by Shepard as ‘a take-off on Republican fascism’.
The show premiered in New York in 2004, following the publication of The Plutonium Files:America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War. The book is a history of US government-engineered radiation experiments on unwitting Americans.
The stage play, starring Tim Roth, closed after a short run and was last seen in the UK at the Donmar Warehouse in 2005. It has now opened at the Theatre N16 for a 4 week run directed by Rocky Rodriguez, Jr.
Rodriguez has made the point that he wanted to take on one of Shepard’s most surreal pieces of work though his interpretation is not in line with the run at the Donmar. He has certainly pushed the boundaries particularly in the final third of the play where things become quite bizarre.
Upon entering the theatre the audience is immediately drawn into a marvellous set designed by the exceptionally talented Abigail Screen. We are facing a kitchen and it is almost exclusively black and white, having a cartoon style feel. Think of the pencil-sketch animation in the 1985 A-ha Take on Me video.
We are transported to the bleak and bitterly cold state of Wisconsin where Frank and Emma live in rustic isolation on a dairy farm. They are among the last holdouts in an area where independent dairy farmers are being pushed out of business. Their peace is shattered when Graig Haynes, a friend of Frank, comes to stay and has Welch, a supposed salesman, in hot pursuit. We soon learn that Graig is a radioactive refugee from a plutonium producing establishment. What follows is a process of intimidation in which Welch gets his man and terrorises the innocent mid-westerners.
Helen Foster & Craig Edgley
The star of the show is without doubt Helen Foster who plays Emma and commands the stage taking her character from homely to hysterical as the play progresses. Her accent was spot on and her performance is worth the price of admission alone.
Craig Edgley plays Frank, a dependable man who loves looking after his heifers and Ryan Prescott is a watchable as Haynes with his unpredictable and often violent behaviour. Less convincing is Thomas Throe as Welch, who failed to hit the spot with either his accent or portrayal of what is a sinister character.
The play does become quite bizarre towards the end particularly when Haynes was paraded in a gimp mask with an electric lead attached to his genitals. This dark production demands attention throughout and leaves the audience with much to think about. It is a fast paced hour long show brought to the stage by critically acclaimed fringe theatre company Craft Theatre, the first piece in a 12 month season of four shows.
Photography courtesy of Craft Theatre
THE GOD OF HELL
is at Theatre N16 until 5th August