Big Finish launches its HG Wells series with The Invisible Man, starring the late lamented John Hurt as Griffin, the invisible man of the title, Blake Ritson and Annette Badland. It was adapted for audio by Jonathan Barnes. It’s an interesting choice to start this run of six titles – the idea of an invisible man is prevalent in contemporary science fiction, yet the original Wells story is less well known than others he wrote. In some ways it is also one with the least element of science fiction in the tale; once the idea of invisibility is incorporated, this is a tale of humanity with all its weaknesses and obsessions, and the science angle is just a backdrop to a cautionary tale, much like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
As a story, The Invisible Man is interestingly structured and Jonathan Barnes’ adaptation brings this to the fore. The first disc is set in a hamlet where a nameless, bandaged stranger appears, takes rooms in the pub run by Mrs. Hall (Annette Badland) and proceeds to descend into madness as the locals become aware there is an invisible man in their midst. Escaping, Griffin makes the acquaintance of Marvel (Peter Noble) a gentleman of the road who acts as the pivot around which both parts of this tale turn. We learn about Griffin’s backstory in the second disc as Marvel tells his story to Kemp (Blake Ritson) a scientist who knew Griffin from before. It’s all well balanced and the Victorian setting is well realised by the adaptation and Ken Bentley’s direction.
Of course, the star of the piece is John Hurt’s portrayal of Griffin, at once mad, charming, sinister, driven and at no point a hero. This isn’t a story about a good man struck down by madness, but a flawed man in pursuit of power. Power underpins the motives of many of the characters, and plenty of chance to examine that.
Not only is this is a good story, but also an excellent chance to appreciate Wells as a great writer, regardless of genre. He was, remember, nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature four times. His setting out the matter of fact lives of ordinary folk is as good as any of his writing, such as The History of Mr. Polly and he captures the voice of his characters with admirable skill.
As an audio, it is, as we have grown used to, an excellent piece of production, great soundscaping, excellent music and superb performances all round. Thank you John Hurt, you’ll always be remembered.
THE INVISIBLE MAN / AUTHOR: HG WELLS / ADAPTED BY: JONATHAN BARNES / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: JOHN HURT, BLAKE RITSON, ANNETTE BADLAND, PETER NOBLE, DAN STARKEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW