23 February 2023

Crit by Andre Delicata for The Times of Malta


Masquerade manage to make Misery’s macabre mastery meaningful at Blue Box, M Space

Obsession and twisted power-dynamics come into full play in William Goldman’s stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Given that Goldman was also responsible for the screenplay of the same novel’s adaptation into film, it comes as no surprise that he knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to distilling the nuances of King’s psychological thriller into a gripping and engaging whole. And Goldman’s version of Misery is indeed the latest Masquerade production to come to fruition at Blue Box – with all of this long-established theatre company’s flair, professionalism and quality.

With a clever revolving stage and set design by Romualdo Moretti, director Stephen Oliver had a top-notch cast to work with in what is essentially a whopping two-hour two-hander, with only one extra actor in a supporting role. The inimitable Alan Paris as Paul Sheldon met his match in Isabel Warrington’s intense performance as Annie Wilkes, while Victor Debono played Buster the local sheriff.

King’s take on horror in Misery is not the supernatural kind, but the very real, human type and it was all the more terrifying for it. Describing the piece as a psychological thriller works well at genre level, but there is much more to it than simply keeping the audience on the edge of their seats as they see the violent power dynamic in the imbalance between Paris’ Paul and Warrington’s Annie. For a start, the stereotypical power dyad of dominant male and submissive/victimised female is reversed.

Acclaimed novelist Paul’s devastating injuries following a car accident leave him completely vulnerable and at the mercy of Annie’s obsessive and unhinged personality – one that borders on the sociopathic. She describes herself as his “number one fan” and the extended word “fanatic” makes sense here.

Coloured by her conceived grievances at the hands of others and the subtly but cleverly referenced fervent Christianity which characterise her actions, retired nurse Annie no takes on the role of gaoler-torturer as she demands that Paul brings her beloved favourite character back to life. Misery Chastain – the heroine of Paul’s Victorian gothic saga gives her name to the play in multiple ways.

The play is about her fictional resurrection as much as it is about the misery that Annie inflicts upon Paul as she tortures him while keeping him captive in her remote house. It is the misery that every writer feels when they are lost or suffering from a crisis in their writing and it is their same misery when they are trapped by the highly successful genre they wrote themselves into.

Misery is visceral not just because of the incredible, sensitive portrayals of two characters in crisis, given by two phenomenal actors but also because it highlights a postmodern metafictional conceit. How far can the author be described as a god to his characters, making them, and breaking them, when he himself is subjugated and vulnerable to someone he depends on? Who is the higher creative, or indeed destructive force in the play?

The dynamics of power and control are explored in such a raw, unfiltered manner, in the plot and the subsequent play-script that nothing short of a perfect cast is required to execute such an exposition. And producer Anthony Bezzina along with director Stephen Oliver certainly hit the jackpot with Paris and Warrington.

Notions of identity and identification are also explored in a multi-faceted piece which confirms both King’s narrative prowess and equally, Goldman’s incredibly perceptive power of adaptation. Misery is a study in the interconnectivity of narrative and dramaturgical devices, and it has definitely won out. Kudos to Masquerade for such a wise choice of an incredible piece of theatre. An absolute must-see.

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