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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket


  Mark Bazeley and Natascha McElhone/ Ph: Tristram Kenton

What at first glance may seem like an attempt to exploit the hugely successful 1987 thriller starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, is apparently really a bid by the movie's screenwriter James Dearden to change the ending and in the process add moral ambiguity. This may be a source of great satisfaction to Dearden, who apparently wanted to get closer to how he first conceived the idea. But Trevor Nunn's slick, laborious production is likely to be anything but satisfying for those watching it.

Doubtless the star casting of Sex in the City's Kristin Davis as the dutiful wife Beth will help the box office. Unfortunately Mark Bazeley, who takes on the Douglas role of one-time philanderer Dan Gallagher, is somewhat eclipsed by the combined star wattage of Davis and Natascha McElhone, who plays the unhinged Close character, Alex. That said, Bazeley gets little help from Dearden's script, which has Dan narrating his own story and interjecting it with mundane, cod-philosophical musings about fate and how of all the bars in all the world he had to walk into Alex's, or words to that effect.

Despite the addition of nuance intended to make McElhone's Alex less psychotic than Close's version, and her moral high ground a little higher, she still ends up boiling Dan's bunny and trashing his car. Moral ambiguity or no, Alex is still a psycho.

I used to wonder out loud what good can come of adapting films for the stage. Then Festen happened – Ruffus Norris' stage version of the Danish film about family secrets – and it was so good, I never wondered out loud again. But the lesson of that play was that you need to have an inventive theatrical slant on a film to drive the stage version. How else could it be rewarding to fans of the original who have seen the whole thing before? They are, after all, any adaptation's core audience. 

This one feels as if much of the script has been transposed without much thought onto the stage. And in the process Nunn has failed to spot some fatal false notes. There's a scene where Alex bathes Dan in a gaze of besotted infatuation, and all because he too loves Madam Butterfly. Now, there must be, what, 2 billion people on the planet who love that opera? What are the chances of two of them meeting in same bar? Alex's look of love appears to asking. As Dan says elsewhere and often in the play, it must be fate. 

Nunn might be coming to the same conclusion. You could forgive the former National Theatre director the occasional dud. After holding down the biggest job in theatre it must be tempting to take on a project whose reputation is at least as big as your own. But although he's had recent successes, particularly a wonderful production of Beckett's All That Fall, after his ill-advised musical version of Gone with the Wind, this adaptation, which is almost devoid of theatrical invention, is beginning to make Nunn look like he has a fatal lack of judgment.


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