Screwtape – A Stimulating Hour in a Lecture Hall of Hell
C.S. Lewis reflected that while he’d never found a book easier to write than 1941’s Screwtape Letters in which a senior devil counsels his nephew, a tempter-in-training named Wormwood, on how to corrupt a young man and yank him away from a proper apprehension of God, “it was not fun. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself . . . was all dust, grit, thirst and itch.” Indeed Lewis waited nearly 20 years before he dared pen its shorter sequel, Screwtape Proposes a Toast.
I wonder whether in performing his own adaptation and ingenious update of the Letters and the Toast (‘letters’ become ‘e-pistles’ and, just as you suspected, the digital world is indeed the Devil’s playground) actor John D. Huston doesn’t also long for some sort of post-show fumigation of the spirit to bring him back to his true self. Yes, this is a comedy but of the very darkest and most disturbing kind.
Huston, best known to London audiences for his electrifying presentation of Charles Dickens’ One Man Christmas Carol at Aeolian Hall each December (his Van Dyke beard suits Dickens and a senior devil to a T) is adept at playing tightly wound characters of immense power. The presentation couldn’t be simpler: a sinister man in an elegant suit (but no socks) and a Google Glass headset advises his nephew and rehearses his toast for that night’s dinner at the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils. It is a diabolically witty lecture – and a warning – about human weakness and our susceptibility to manipulation.
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