I read C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” when I was 19 and it scared me something fierce. It is a work of fiction that presents the letters of a head demon, named Screwtape, to his nephew and younger demon, named Wormwood. I read it again, in preparation of seeing the live play adaptation, while I was in Russia and found it just as unnerving and engrossing as I did 16 years ago. It is not a book for the faint hearted or for the casual reader, but I would recommend you give it a read if you have the chance.
C.S. Lewis was an extraordinarily gifted writer. He wastes no words and puts thoughts to paper in a way like none other. From the moment I heard that Max McLean had adapted “The Screwtape Letters” as a play, I knew I simply had to be in the audience.
Because the bulk of the action in the book takes place in Screwtape’s office – with Screwtape writing letters to his nephew, I was highly curious as to how this would translate to a stage presentation. I read a bit about some of the adaptions and found that they had introduced the character of the demon, Toadpipe, with far more presence than mentioned in the book. Toadpipe is mentioned briefly as a secretary of sorts who takes dictation from Screwtape. I was somewhat dubious about how this would look, but nonetheless excited to at least see Max’s take on Screwtape.
Toadpipe was played by Tamala Bakkensen and she deserves an enormous mention for what she brought the the production. Her costume was fantastic, with scales all over her body and bright red face paint. She slithered and cackled and scurried across that stage from curtain’s open to close. When Screwtape would go into detail describing the condition of humans, a flash of white light would suddenly send her upright and performing whatever trait of human nature he discussed. A second flash and she would collapse back into her demonic form. One example of this was when Screwtape is telling his nephew about the efforts made by demonic forces to corrupt man’s view of the female form. He talked about the era of the silly, giggly female and Toadpipe sashayed around the stage, giggling, blowing kisses, and perching on her belly with her feet crossed in the air behind her like a 1950′s pop star. From here, he described the era of the female whose body is barely recognizable from that of a boy and Toadpipe strutted the stage like it was a catwalk while fashion show music blasted us and strobe lights blazed.
A stage production of what is essentially a series of letters could easily grow tiring with repetitive displays, but this was not the case here. Between the antics of Toadpipe, the excellent use of light and sound, the incredible set design, and the de- evolution of Screwtape from crisp demon royalty to tattered demon failure, the play stayed fresh and engaging throughout.
Read the book. And if you ever hear that this production is playing near you, make every effort to try and see it. You will be disturbed in your soul, but highly entertained and not at all disappointed.
(And now, because my fifteen minutes are almost up and I won’t be able to name drop much longer, I will close with a revisit of a picture of me chatting with Max McLean.)