Islington’s King’s Head Theatre is the perfect, intimate, space to create the claustrophobic world of Annie Wilkes, a more than slightly psychotic stalker who, after rescuing her favourite author (or, so she says), keeps him prisoner by progressively horrific methods in Stephen King’s Misery.
Simon Moore has adapted King’s popular thriller with finesse and plenty of theatricality, and the tension is built up consistently throughout. For the past ten years, novelist Paul Sheldon (Michael Praed) has delighted readers with his cheap historical romances featuring heroine Misery Chastain. During his annual writing retreat, Paul's car crashes in a blizzard. His rescuer Annie Wilkes is a reclusive nurse (Susan Penhaligon) who also happens to be his number one fan. But when Annie discovers that Paul's latest novel doesn't feature Misery, tender-loving care turns into terrorism and Paul finds himself forced to write a chapter of a new novel every day to stay alive.
The two-hander is gripping, particularly on several occasions when Annie goes out, leaving Paul a small window of opportunity to break free. There's also great chemistry between Praed and Penhaligon, who have previously appeared on stage together in the 2003 UK tour of The Constant Wife, and make an impressive team. Praed is believable as a man in pain, and yet still remains charming. Penhaligon’s performance, and her ability to appear as though she has gone off into her own skewed world, is haunting.
Effective music by Chris Madin provides well-timed creepiness between scenes; and Claire Lyth’s set evokes the dilapidated old farmhouse with clever use of wooden panels and creaking doors, complemented by atmospheric lighting by Hansjorg Schmidt.
Horror is definitely not my cup of tea and I did have to avert my eyes on several occasions. However, it's a credit to the script and Alan Cohen's direction, as well as the involving performances, that almost all the violence is suggested rather than shown, which has the effect of making it even scarier. Despite the horror, there's also quite a lot of tension-breaking humour, which Praed utilises to full effect when he in turn becomes tormentor.