“An imaginative attempt at what could have been quite a bland adaptation”
From the quills of established writer Sarah Waters and high-flying playwright Laura Wade, my expectations were certainly high on entering the auditorium for this new interpretation of the award winning novel. And with a very amusing opening skit and a dazzling number from Laura Rogers as Kitty, it certainly got off to a fine start.
However, while the amount of creativity on show – from daring aerial sequences, to lush period costumes and a Victorian Music Hall arrangement of a song famously featured on a Diet Coke advert – was impressive, unfortunately, this production’s lack of cohesion and staccato structure made it nigh-on infuriating for me to sit through.
In saying that, the show wasn’t without its laugh out loud moments – a landlady dressed in exactly the same design of fabric as the wallpaper in her house and lines such as “You exquisite little tart” certainly caused a few chuckles. However, the comedic aspects were pushed to their limits with a section involving animal carcasses being used as puppets in a song, and a certain “adult” section depicting Nancy’s experience as a prostitute. Definitely not recommended for the easily offended.
Sally Messiah is certainly charismatic as Nancy, Amanda Hadingue is very likeable as Annie (among other characters she plays), and Ru Hamilton delivers a delightful turn as gender-bending Alice. However, for me the most credit in this production should go to the stage hands, whose alarmingly efficient scene changes left me in a state of amazement on numerous occasions.
Much of Lizzie Clapham’s design was visually impressive, but use of space could definitely have been improved: at times the central characters would appear very lost towards the back of a somewhat empty stage, hindering the sense of intimacy they were trying to create. In a production with so many scenes, locations and jarring cuts between them all, a much more fluid approach to location and action would have been more engaging.
There were various musical numbers interspersed throughout the piece, almost all of which were interpretations of modern songs. In some instances, these worked well as a way to bring relevance to today’s audience, but in the second act when Nancy is desperate for a place to live, she belts out a line from one power ballad after another, with farcical impact. Rather than being able to relate to her struggle, she is instead alienated, and it becomes difficult to then reconnect with her in the following scene. This is part of what frustrated me the most about this production: at times we were allowed in to develop a bond with the characters, while in certain sections it was impossible to do so.
The constant bouncing between styles, coupled with the distinct over use of the compere/narrator/MC character, who incessantly dove on stage with needless interruptions between every scene, made this production feel like it was having some sort of pubescent identity crisis between Brechtian fable, cabaret variety show, and an episode of Jeremy Kyle. I could have handled any of those interpretations individually but all in one show was just too much.
In some ways I’m glad this production took some risks to create an imaginative attempt at what could have been quite a bland adaptation. It’s just a shame that so many different styles, techniques and devices were used in the process.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 29 October)
Visit the The Lyceum archive.