Reviewed – 12th October 2019
“there are so many loose ends to tie up at the end, that the resulting denouement seems a bit laboured”
Ecuador is the location for G.M.C (Gerard) Lewis’ contribution to the 2019 London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, and The Hypnotist adds a nicely warm and tropical feel to counter wet and chilly October days. Produced by the Monkey’s Fist Theatre Company, this tale of an innocent young ecotourist meeting ancient evil in the jungle has the elements to make a satisfying contribution to a Fright Fest. Does it succeed in chilling the blood of the audience as the story proceeds? Not entirely, and it has nothing to do with temperature. The chief problem is that The Hypnotist is overladen with detail and too many story lines. The plot struggles to integrate Laura the herpetologist, Garrett the aforesaid ecotourist, Sandy the anthropologist and the late introduction of an Irishman named Daragh, plus lots of references to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and mysterious disappearances of rich inhabitants there. Add to that Laura’s snakes, and an overload of information about ancient peoples whose rituals and pharmacopeia have been appropriated by Sandy for her anthropological studies. But there is never a satisfying explanation for why the practice of western hypnotism is combined with non-western shamanistic rituals. Otherwise, this wealth of material does come together during the course of the play, but there are so many loose ends to tie up at the end, that the resulting denouement seems a bit laboured.
The actors do their best with The Hypnotist, and they are an engaging group of performers. Lauren Barnes as Laura is an intense and detail driven scientist, and the naive and far too trusting Garrett, played by Nic James, is drawn to her and her snake charming ways right from the start. Sandy, played by Maria Pearson, commands the stage when she is on it. Colin Hubbard as Daragh has the least to do in this four hander, but he handles the role of the “heavy” with just the right amount of creepy can-do.
The biggest weakness of this production is the staging. Despite an elaborate set with lots of tropical plants, tents and the paraphernalia of camping, The Hypnotist is a drama about states of mind, and all this naturalistic detail just gets in the way. Some of the essential details mentioned in the script—such as the continual repetition of a hammock “as your safe place”—become distractions as you search about the set for a hammock without seeing one. The snakes are disappointingly small when finally revealed. Andrea Hazel Lewis, who directs, has to guide her actors through this mass of detail, where perhaps a more uncluttered set (and script), and more reliance on lighting and sound effects could have set the scene just as effectively. Eddie Mann’s music and sound effects are certainly up to the task.
Fans of horror movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow will probably appreciate this tale of ancient wisdom being misappropriated for modern purposes. However, audiences who prefer more uncluttered trips to landscapes of terror may find The Hypnotist a less satisfying excursion.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue: