Adapted from the bestselling novel by Stephen King, Misery is a thrilling story of obsession. Penned by playwright William Goldman (who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar winning film of the same name), Misery follows the tense story of writer Paul Sheldon as he struggles to break free of his captor – and biggest fan - Annie Wilkes.
Paul finds himself in Annie’s care after waking up from a car crash somewhere in rural Colorado. Annie is, supposedly, Paul’s saviour, having pulled him from the wreckage and into her home. Apparently, the storm that caused his crash and broke his legs has also closed the roads – but Annie has promised to call his agent and get him to hospital as soon as she can. In the meantime, he’ll just have to stay put.
…That’s something that won’t be difficult considering the sturdy lock on his door.
Annie, who appears to be a motherly nurse, has been patiently awaiting Paul’s latest book in his popular Misery series but, upon reading the novel, flies into a frightening rage. Violently, she orders Paul to write a sequel where she gets to dictate the storyline.
Trapped with his new typewriter and his self-confessed biggest fan breathing down his neck, Paul does as she asks… All while plotting his escape.
For director Dan Bain, the story is a classic psychological thriller that he can’t wait to bring to The Court’s mainstage.
“At the guts it’s about obsession. It’s about the ownership that fans feel towards material that they love. I think it’s really relevant – look at the backlash around the new Star Wars films. Misery poses some really interesting questions around ownership and the roles of creators and audiences.”
Bain, who is also the Associate Director at The Court, pushed for Misery to be programmed.
“If you’ve got an idea of what plays The Court does, this is the play that breaks those assumptions. Thrillers used to be a really big mainstay of people’s theatre experience, but not so much anymore. It’s a genre that is really easy to make a value judgement on by saying, ‘that’s not for me,’ or, ‘I certainly wouldn’t enjoy that,’ but there are things to enjoy in Misery that people will be surprised by. To go through the experience of being afraid – in a clearly safe environment – is good for you. It’s thrilling and cathartic and you get an adrenaline rush off the back of it.”
In casting the play, Bain had to look for actors who could command the stage and, specifically for Annie, a woman who could handle the duality of a role that flips between a nurturing, mothering figure and a destructive and aggressive tyrant.
“Annie starts off presenting as really sweet and harmless – and a little bit prim. Then we find out what’s underneath that hatch…”
The woman delving into the madness of Annie Wilkes is actor and director Lara Macgregor, best known at The Court for directing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and playing Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.
For Macgregor the play is exciting because, “so rarely does the opportunity present itself to view a psychological horror of this calibre on stage. It cleverly perches you on the edge of your seat while paying homage to the redemptive power of writing.”
Joining her is actor Gavin Rutherford as the man being kept under lock-and-key, writer Paul Sheldon. Rutherford, a two-time Chapman Tripp Theatre Award winner for his performances in Uncle Vanya and A View from the Bridge is based in Wellington and is returning to The Court for the first time since his 2006 performance in Happy Coupling to perform in Misery. Adam Brookfield rounds out the cast as cop Buster after recently finishing his performance as Ted in boardroom thriller Ideation.
The name Stephen King is a drawcard for many audience members, but Bain thinks Misery will appeal to more than just spooky film lovers.
“Obviously fans of Stephen King and the Misery film will like it, but if you like theatre with visual splendour, this play will be visually exciting.”
Through Stephen King’s Misery, The Court will be offering Christchurch audiences theatre that’s a little bit different – and darker – than the usual offerings.
“I think there’s a thrill to be found in Misery that people should have a crack at,” Bain said.
Bain, who designed and ran the Ghost Tour at the Arts Centre, knows a lot about frightening people – which is his aim in bringing Misery to life.
“We’ll be doing our best to honour the intent of the piece… Our aim is not to please, coddle or pander. Our goal is screams.”