The Screwtape Letters shows us the unique challenges demons face trying to corrupt humans and the consequences that arise when they fail.
Should you see it?
As a companion piece to The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters also explores morality and human nature although its look at the afterlife is more one-sided: the play focuses on a collection of demons in Hell and their attempts to gain the soul of a particular man.
The narrative is clearly laid out and fun to watch: Professor Screwtape ordered the removal of demons from a certain church and in doing so, left it open to new souls. He is quickly blamed for the conversion of a new member of the church and commands his students, Wormwood and Slubgog, to tempt this man to the dark side.
Although their methods are familiar (trying to sow doubt, highlighting inconsistencies, preying on moments of weakness, etc.), their attempts feel fresh and exciting because of the framing of students trying, learning and growing in their endeavours. The characters’ frustrations, discoveries, and creativity are what make this show shine. The stakes are also high and this adds to the tension of the show.
Watching Screwtape (played by George Dutch) descend from being a great orator and respected senior faculty member to a desperate and ultimately dethroned demon is enthralling. Elizabeth Chant’s Slubgog is a hapless class clown that audience members can’t help but be charmed by. Everyone in the cast did a great job supporting one another and building a world that is utterly believable and clear.
That being said, I have to admit to being most impressed by Nicholas Amott’s performance of the extremely creepy Wormwood. Amott completely transformed into his character with effective movement and mannerisms coupled with the scariest hisses and growls I’ve ever heard. His was an impressive, powerful and captivating performance that really showcased his strengths as an actor.
Like The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters has very good staging and movement, particularly during the “chorus” scenes that bookended the play. The costumes here are less intricate and unique than its counterpart but they are no less strong, with each suiting the character and the setting very well. In particular, there were some really great artistic choices in embellishments and colors.
My only complaint is that I had expected this play to be more intellectually stimulating and challenging. The Screwtape Letters contains a lot of excellent dialogue but doesn’t pose as many interesting questions as its companion piece. That being said, this is a completely different kind of show: it’s straightforward and follows a simple storyline instead of exploring larger themes and concepts more directly. In translating C.S. Lewis’ collection of letters from Screwtape to Wormwood into a stage play, this adaptation has changed a philosophical behemoth into a humbler though no less entertaining and enjoyable piece of theater.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did The Screwtape Letters leave you with fiendish nightmares or was its content enough to put you to sleep? Were you rooting for Wormwood or did you hope for Heavan to prevail? Join the discussion in the comments below.
The 9th Hour Theater Company presents The Screwtape Letters at the GCTC Studio on alternating days until August 9th. Visit www.gctc.ca/plays/screwtape-letters for information on show times and how to buy advance tickets.