24 September 2006: O’Brien, The Invisible Man

Shaw Festival. Royal George Theatre. Adapted from H. G. Wells’s novel of the same title. Directed by Neil Munro

This is one of three plays performed in the Royal George Theatre this season, and we find from the Shaw Festival website that the plays here are calculated to appeal to people who are not regular theatergoers. This season: Design for Living, The Heiress, and The Invisible Man. We thought that Design for Living sits at some­thing of an angle in this company, but one can see how the policy is articulated in these choices.

Certainly The Invisible Man places no strain on the mind. It is an easy-to-follow fantasy (Wells didn’t like the term “science fiction”) about a scientist who discovers how to make himself invisible and so enters on a constant collision course with the rest of the world and human society, leading eventually to a vio­lent death. There may be some moral in this, but what the play — and presum­ably the novel — is about is power: what can happen when a person is freed from the social responsibility attendant on being seen, being perceived, as a pres­ent human being, accountable for his actions. That is what it is about, but the play does not delve more than a few inches down into the philosophical or metaphysical depths suggested by the scenario. There are lots of mistakes and pratfalls and other things, including some magic tricks that are decent fun; and this audience appreciated them, welcoming rather than being troubled by their simple physic­al­ity and triviality.

We will be more careful, if and when we return to the Shaw Festival, to look over the offerings at the Royal George. My plan has long been to book a play for the last night of a sequence (usually in London) of playgoing that will ensure good entertainment. This one filled that bill — but for others, not for us.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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