Sir John Hurt sadly passed away on the 25th January 2017. His screen and stage career spanned six decades and practically every genre. But, for Doctor Who fans, he’ll always be remembered as the War Doctor – the hero who fought in the Time War. Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. So perhaps it’s fitting that one of his final performances was as ‘The Invisible Man’ for Big Finish.
Every science fiction fan owes much to the work of H.G. Wells. Even if you’ve never read his stories, most modern sci-fi can trace its roots to ideas popularised by Wells. Time travel, alien invasion, human-animal hybrids. These seem old hat to us now. But, to Victorian readers worried about the speed of scientific progress, this was basically ‘Black Mirror’.
The team at Big Finish have taken on the challenge of adapting six of Wells’ stories into star-studded audio plays. Our first entry sees John Hurt take on the titular role in ‘The Invisible Man’, adapted by Jonathan Barnes.
The Invisible Plot Points
Because the novel was written in the third person, Barnes has invented a framing device to give the story some much-needed context. The two characters who interact the most with the title character are in conversation to piece together the tale. As an adaptation, Barnes has done a terrific job whittling down the novel while keeping the structure. The novel isn’t especially long, but it’s filled with a lot of extra detail on the setting and incidental characters. With the structure Barnes has used, its inclusion would have been hard to justify so is wisely removed. Otherwise, it’s a very faithful adaptation worthy of Wells himself.
Throwing Your Voice
Director Ken Bentley and sound designer Matthew Cochrane have cleverly engineered the audio to realise the Invisible Man. Whenever Griffin shows up unexpectedly, Hurt’s voice sounds like it’s been subtly treated to be more ethereal than usual. Inevitably, there’s more ‘say what you see’ dialogue than usual in this story to help the audience track Griffin’s movements. Something that Barnes – a seasoned pro – pulls off effortlessly. But the carefully arranged soundscape helps the process along, making it a much more comfortable listen than expected.
Madness, Yet There’s Method Acting In It
John Hurt makes a fierce villain in the title role, running the gamut of emotions as he sinks into madness. As an irascible tenant and later a malevolent poltergeist, Hurt excels. The only time he falters slightly is in the full throes of Griffin’s megalomania and self-aggrandisement. Hurt gives a strong performance but his husky voice struggles with the character’s extreme pomp. Blake Ritson and Peter Noble handle the heavy lifting, narrating as Kemp and Marvel respectively, with their usual skill. The rest of the cast do an excellent job, which is even more impressive considering most were pulling triple-duty.
A Sign of Things to Come
‘The Invisible Man’ kicks off a bumper year for Big Finish’s range of classic stories. As well as five more Wells stories, next month sees Dirk Gently himself, Samuel Barnett, take on ‘Cicero’. Alexander Vlahos will play the Dane in August and some time later Nicholas Briggs will adapt his touring stage production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde‘ to audio.
If ‘The Invisible Man’ is any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be an exciting year!
Blogtor Rating – 8/10
In the midst of a snowstorm, a stranger arrives in an English country inn, seeking solitude. Soon, inexplicable goings-on at the Coach and Horses bring fear to the village.
Two very different men – the scholarly Dr Kemp and gentleman-of-the-road Thomas Marvel – are drawn into terrible events beyond their understanding.
A man named Griffin has defied the laws of nature, and is about to embark on a reign of terror. For he is… The Invisible Man.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: HG Wells, dramatised by Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley
John Hurt (Griffin), Blake Ritson (Kemp), Peter Noble (Thomas Marvel), Dan Starkey (Teddy Henfrey), Annette Badland (Mrs Hall), David Rintoul (Reverend Bunting/ Dr Cuss/ The American), Richard Dixon (Colonel Adye/ Mariner/ Shopkeeper), Alex Clatworthy (Agatha/ Millie/ Marie), Alexander Forsyth (Sergeant Perkins/ Constable Jaffers/Barman).
Other parts played by members of the cast.