Brave, bold and vibrant. There is a lot to be impressed by in this production, however, The God of Hell need a little tighter vision to stop it fraying at the edges.
This is my first introduction to The God of Hell so I’m not sure what to expect. I know that Michael Billington once wrote a scathing review of its European premier at the Donmar and this definitely makes me want to like it. As we enter the space, I am immediately struck by the set. We are sat right up against it, peering through the hanging frames of windows into an almost entirely black and white and highly stylized living space. The set is dripping with meaning and is in no way subtle in its symbolism; the monotony driven by american consumerism. It certainly packs a visual punch and designer Abigail Screen has done a great job of crafting a simultaneously surreal and aesthetically powerful world.
The God of Hell starts slightly strangely; the lights coming on for the actors to take their places and dropping again before coming up for the scene. I am not sure if this is meant to be a nod to Brecht (a theory supported by the word ‘basement’ written across the area acting as the basement) but it feels a little strange and doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose. I soon forget this however as the play begins. I am gripped throughout as the performances are both unnerving, hilarious and even heartbreaking in moments. Helen Foster (Emma) is particularly impressive and carries each scene with a perfect blend of the the disturbingly naive and firmly rooted. She is funny, frustrating and endearing.
That is not to say the performances are without fault. I am initially thrown by the accents, all of which falter somewhat initially and I do wonder whether the effort is worth it for the distraction it causes as they struggle to keep them going. This improves as the play develops however, and it would be wrong to deny the fact the context they root us in is important.
I am also not convinced by the performance given by Thomas Throe playing Welch. Whether this is a miscasting or more attention needed by director Rock Rodriquez, Jr, I do not get the sense of menace that should be oozing from this character. He is afterall The God of Hell. Couple this with some misses on tension and proper build up in some of the more dramatic scenes makes me think there needed to be a bit more directorial attention and vision applied. This lacking in overall dramatic shape means the end, which switches into something messy and absurd, could be wonderful but currently feels a little confused. The direction and performances in the final scene work, it’s just that none of it feels properly earnt by the development of tension in the preceding scenes. Rodriguez says in the programme he wants it to ‘flow’ from naturalism to absurdity and I think this gentle progression has been lost to something a little more violent and quite confusing.
Overall however, I am gripped throughout, and Foster in particular is an absolute joy to watch on stage. The bizarre and beautiful set holds this absurd story perfectly, the actors have taken on a huge challenge and performed it bravely. This production is fast, clever and often hilarious. I would certainly recommend catching it if you can, it’s on until 5th of August.